Kindness

For years I’ve seen bumper stickers that promote random acts of kindness. I absolutely get the concept they’re going for and the phrase moves well across the palate….. “Random Acts of Kindness.”

But from a strictly clinical perspective, an act of kindness is anything but random. Real kindness requires genuine consideration and the very deliberate execution of a heartfelt deed.

To me the words “Random” and “Kindness” constitute an oxymoron. The two terms are mutually exclusive, kind of like “Blind Faith” or “Microsoft Works”.

Maybe I’m too much of a literalist but all these phrases have troubled me for years. Yet everyone still embraces their core concepts — as well they should. Kindness and faith are always well worth promoting in any form, although maybe not so much the Microsoft thing.

Being kind falls squarely within the province of the human experience because it demands compassion. Other animals in nature can be nurturing by instinct but behavior-wise, the similarity ends there.

Only people can be truly kind, or for that matter truly cruel.

I think I identify easily with kids because I recognize their compassionate behavior more readily than I do that of grown ups. That’s not to say adults are unkind. I am personally acquainted with many sweet-tempered, accommodating folks who are the very soul of kindness. At the same time we’re so much more concerned with how a considerate gesture might be misinterpreted.

Adults are just too weird to get an honest read on them when they’re being nice for no apparent reason. Modern Americans have sadly devolved into a rather untrusting breed, which makes grown up kindness a little harder to spot, and a bit more of a challenge to pull off, even though it’s still very much alive out there.

Kids on the other hand, have no problem being candid with their feelings, which is really the essence of being kind. Still, when you teach them to share and they want to offer the neighbor’s Rottweiler a lick of their lolly pop, that’s when you have to start reining them in a bit. The impulse is right but it has to be tempered with sound judgment.

Although I missed getting to know my older daughter until she was grown, I dearly enjoyed teaching my younger one about being kind when she was small.

Children mimic behavior instinctively and are adept at learning by example. So demonstrating kindness as an adult is critical to a child’s interpretation of how to treat others — and how to be kind to themselves as well, an equally crucial part of their upbringing.

Occasionally kids take our lessons too literally. Once when Courtney was four, she wouldn’t let me apply a plain band-aid to a cut on her elbow.

I didn’t want to force it but I didn’t have time to explain about bacteria and infections. I wanted to be gentle — gentility is a big part of how kindness works.

“Why do I need that sticky thing on me?”

“Band-aids hold the kisses on, sweetheart.” She loved that idea.

Of course she knew where we kept the band-aids and the next morning I found she had applied six or seven of them to her cheeks and forehead — every place we had kissed her good night.

When she didn’t want to eat cucumbers I sliced some up and told her, “They’re garden cookies.” She’s almost 28 now and she still calls them garden cookies.

Kindness. It’s the great convincer that you really do want the best for them.

I suspect all of us are born with the germ of kindness already inside. It only requires the encouragement of expression and a positive direction.

Though I’m not particularly a fan of her novels, many years ago I did enjoy a slender volume of philosophy by Ayn Rand titled “The Virtue of Selfishness”. One of the key precepts of the book is that, when we do something inherently selfless for another person, like bringing flowers to your mother or girlfriend, your true goal is to make them happy so that you can enjoy the feeling of wellbeing that comes from their happiness about your thoughtful act. This is a good kind of selfishness. And while it can be construed as a bit self serving, there’s really nothing at all wrong with the enjoyment we derive from being nice to others. It’s healthy.

Following that logic, sort of, I also endeavor to be kind to as many people as possible for no more reason than to simply confuse them. You provide a welcome service, exercise a Christian value, and entertain yourself all at the same time. It’s great fun, especially if it’s someone who’s been really mean to you and knows they don’t deserve it. They get all perplexed and start looking around like someone moved their food dish.

Ultimately, I thoroughly enjoy going out of my way for someone very deserving who didn’t see it coming. That’s the best.

Now that I think of it, perhaps I was wrong about random acts of kindness. Could it be it’s not the kindness that’s random, but rather the person, time and place in which I choose to act?

Wow.

I love it when I talk myself into this stuff.

But I’m standing my ground on Faith and Microsoft.

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43 thoughts on “Kindness

  1. Hi Michael. I read this a few days ago and now had the chance to ruminate and reread it. A very insightful piece once again. It is true that we adults do get guarded about even being kind because we are afraid it might be misinterpreted. I love the band-aid story, great to save those kisses and hold them tightly on. Ayn Rand’s book you mention seems to hold a similar concept to Desiring God by John Piper with subtitle, Meditations of a Christian Hedonist. The idea he is conveying is that to desire God and dwell in His pleasure is really in our own self-interest. Wonderful book though it probably has a meatier and obviously more Christian focus that Ayn Rand’s. Thanks for another great post. Look forward to catching up with the rest. God bless, Maria at Delight Directed Living

  2. I believe in random acts of kindness, Wouldn’t it be a wonderful world if there were more of them. Great post.

    Cynthia (The Sock Zone)
    a to z challenge
    blueflute.wordpress.com

  3. Michael,

    I love the personal tid-bits you add about your daughter.
    I agree with Microsoft. I can’t believe I never looked at it that way- very funny how you can see something and not notice another way to view it.

    • You’re remarks are gracious and taken to heart. What a lovely sentiment. Thank you for your kind regard and for reading me today. It was lovely seeing you at the writers critique meeting. Cheers.

  4. I disagree that the two words don’t go together. I think it’s how you interpret it. I’ ve been involved in several acts of kindess, both at the receiving end and in the giving in. Random in that you choose when, how, and whom, and no one knows what to expect.

  5. Beautiful post! I’ve always believed in kindness, especially when confronted with meanness. You never know when someone is having a bad day and a small act, be it holding a door open, picking up something someone dropped and giving it back, or a simple, heart-felt smile, can change that.
    In other news, I’ve nominated you for a blog award. If you’re interested in putting it up, you can find all the information here: http://writingreadingandlife.com/2013/04/13/l-is-for-liebster-an-award-that-is/

    • Lovely observation and quite true. You can never suspect how someone’s day may be treating them badly and their sour attitude could be just a reaction and not who they really are. I too like to give them the benefit of the doubt.

      Thank you so much for your kind and thoughtful remarks.

  6. Great post! I have always embraced this idea of “random acts of kindness” mostly because I like doing unexpected things for unexpected people. But, it can go too far. I have been known to give my last $20 to someone needing money only to later find out I have no gasoline. I think kindness should be tempered with self-preservation. At least that’s my new philosophy. Jennifer a.k.a. Urban Gypsy Girl

    • You are absolutely, one hundred percent right on the money — at least 20 bucks worth. It is paramount that we take care of ourselves first before we try to take care of others. I empathize entirely with your very wise instinct for self preservation because, like you, I’m the guy who always tried to come up with $5.00 when the person only needed $1.00. Good philosophy. Thank you so much for reading and so very nice to meet you.

  7. Fantastic post, Michael, I love
    I wont touch the oxy-moron stuff, save to say that your MS hatin’ feels pretty funny/tongue-in-cheek.

    I would love to comment on the kids aspect tho.

    Although I’ve never been one to seek out children, I absolutely adore their qualities, and what they stand for, and I aim to bring as much child-like principles into my own life. I also aim to hang around youthful,open-minded adults.

    In fact much of my career is based on this very thing 🙂

    I love that someone else is talking about it, and your stories of band-aid and cukes are awesome.

    Keep ryzin’, #AtoZChallenge FTW!

    • Jason, thank you for your thoughtful response. So happy to have had an effect. Let’s be clear that I don’t actually hate MS — I am convinced though that they’ll find a cure for it one day.

      Am also glad you appreciate the distinction between child-like and childish. I’m brand spanking new to blogging. Starting a week ago Monday, this is my first time blogging. I figured A to Z would be a good baptism by fire. I’m definitely feeling the burn…… : ]

      Nice to meet you and thanks again for your keen and welcome observations.

  8. This was a refreshing read.

    I love the expression “garden cookies” and the microsoft works humor. I know I’m supposed to be kind to those who don’t deserve it, but it’s a hard thing to do. You make it sound so easy and fun.

    • Thank you for your generous comments.

      As far as kindness being easy and fun, it’s not so simple with difficult people. It’s a mindset you need to get into. But it has its rewards. I recommend it.

  9. I don’t think about whether I’ve done something kind, so I’m surprised when someone thanks me for my kindness or says that’s kind of you to do such a thing for someone else. Whatever act it was that brought on the comment was probably just something that needed to be done. The buzz phrase “Random acts of kindness”, has always had a question mark in my mind. But put in perspective that it applies to the receiver, I guess it makes sense. The giver of kindness, I would think, just does it because that’s what is part of him or her. Pshew! Now that was a rambling thought from me….By the way, I don’t think your post was long at all. It was just right.

    Take 25 to Hollister
    Don’t be a Hippie

    • If you don’t think about it but just do it, you’re among a distinct minority and to be praised for your good upbringing. Somebody must’ve done somethin’ right and we are all of us the better for knowing you. I wish I could manage my kindness on autopilot but for me it’s always a judgement call. I do think about it. A lot. Can’t help myself.

      So very happy you stopped in to say howdy. And don’t worry about the rambling thoughts. It just means you have so much to say your brain won’t take a breath until it’s all gotten out there. When it’s commentary of substance like yours, we don’t mind taking the time to read it.

      Thank you for your kind thoughts. Being only ten days old as a blogger, I’ve got a lot to learn from nice folks like you. Please keep teaching me. Cheers and brava!

    • The very best of lessons for your son — kindness. If he learns nothing else in his life, you will still be an exceptional father. Bravo to you. And thank you for reading. Very much appreciated.

  10. Great article! You kept my attention from start to finish, where you made me laugh. 🙂 I guess part of what kept me so enthralled was that I feel the same way, especially about the innocence and compassion of children. It is sad that so many adults grow up with a hardened heart and a suspicious mind, but then we don’t know how life has dealt with them.
    #1329
    A to Z April Blogging Challenge
    http://mauldinfamily1.wordpress.com/2013/04/12/k-is-for-kismet/

    • You’re observations are right on the money. So happy to have gotten a giggle or two out of you. I do lament the hardening of the emotional arteries as the years stack up. Too many people have forgotten the joy and wonder of the youthful outlook. Somebody please tell them there’s no shelf life on that stuff.

      Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and your kind enthusiasm. So nice to meet you.

  11. Great, thought-provoking post. Not too long at all in my opinion!

    Adults do lose their desire to be kind as we grow older and trust less and discover that some people, when shown kindness, become leeches because they’re so starved for it…which says sad things about the lack of nurturing/community in most places. But you’re totally right–a good motivation for being kind is helping ourselves as much as or more than others by giving.

    • You’re correct, Colleen, in that some affection starved souls, when shown a bit of kindness, tend to take things to extremes. But I think it’s also important to recognize that’s what’s happening and not let it put you off your intent to be kind in the first place. The little kindnesses are usually the most appreciated. “I’ll help you pull a couple of weeds, but I’m not going to repave your driveway for you, pal.”

      You’re very sweet. Nice to meet you and thank you for reading.

  12. I have my own ‘issues’ with this whole new thingy of ‘Random Act of Kindness’ bandwagon but you know Americans they get on a kick and if it makes the world a little better, well, alrighty, but I do giggle. Oh, I love the story with the kisses and cucumber with your daughter 🙂

    • Arlee, you are a world class day-maker. Either you are heavily medicated or I must be doing something right. Either way, I am grateful for your generous encouragement and your continued kindnesses. I’m also incredibly appreciative for your endorsement of mine and several other blogs in the challenge.

      Most of all I thank you as well for your daily blogs that uplift those of us who grow weary from knocking out this much material in a month.

      Cheers and tally ho!!

  13. I loved your post Michael, and I agree we need to ‘just do it’. It’s good for heart mind and soul and what comes round goes round right? But apart from that, as fellow human beings, we need connection and kindness is the simplest and best way of expressing it. The Dalai Lama said something about Kindness is my religion.

    I’ll check out your other posts and I LOVE your by-line!

    Susan Scott’s Soul Stuff
    fellow A-Z

    • Susan, you’re glowing remarks have cultivated in me a mutual fan. I’m off to check out you blog as well. And yes, the Dalai Lama absolutely said, “Kindness is my religion.” I think he also said, “Never pass up a chance to sit down or to pee.” He was very wise that way.

      Thank you, a hundred times, thank you for your enthusiasm. So very nice to meet you.

  14. ‘Band-aids hold in the kisses’ and ‘cucumbers as garden cookies’ – loved this.

    I loved your example of ‘selfish kindness’ by Ayn Rand. Sadly, though, it is the people who are really close to us that we begin to take for granted and overlook being kind to.

    A thought-provoking post, Michael

    • How wonderful of you to stop by. And I’m so very happy to have had an effect on you today. You’re right, though. It’s those who are nearest to us that seem to suffer our neglect the most. Now you’ve got ME looking over my shoulder. I need to pay more attention to those I hold dear.

      Thank you for provoking a thought on this end of the conversation as well. You’re very sweet.

  15. I do try my best to show kindness to everyone though it is sometimes pretty hard to do. My Dad, on the other hand, does a better job at kindness than I do. He is actually helping a really poor old lady get her dental work done so she can have dentures (her teeth were so bad, she couldn’t eat even soft food).

    • I love hearing about people behaving decently toward others, especially the unwarranted generosity. You’re dad is one of the good guys. Hug him more often, whether he likes it or not.
      Thanks for reading and for your observations.

    • Thank you for your observations. I appreciate you stopping by.

      And you’re right , this one ran a bit long. I’ve only been blogging for about two weeks so I’m still learning. I have trouble with long writing too — my lips keep getting tired.

      Thanks for reading. Cheers.

  16. Yeah, I guess the ‘random’ part of a random act of kindness is that it’s random to the person who is receiving the act! Kindness is one of my ‘things’ – I wish we were all kinder to each other. Quite often, it seems that people are forgetting how to be kind altogether, along with forgetting their manners and with forgetting that every single one of us is a sentient human being!

    • In all seriousness, I choose to believe in the basic goodness of people, especially when they’re behaving despicably. We’re all despicable now and again. I’ve got to remember I’m a lot like them — trying hard to make it all work and not always succeeding. In that realization I can find kindness for them. Thank you again, Linda, for your keen observations. I love hearing from you.

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