Broken

The idea that anything or anyone could be born broken relies on the conceit that the born thing must have at one time in its past been in good working order to begin with. Still the feeling that nothing worked the way it should have from the start weighs heavily on any number of people I know.

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It’s wrong in my opinion to identify with one’s damage. We are more than our broken places, more than our shattered intentions, more than deeds we couldn’t bring to life or heroes we never quite managed to become. We are far better than our shortcomings, which are so necessary to guide us in our quest to better ourselves. In this regard there are two kinds of people — those consumed by their mistakes and those inspired by them.

It is pointless to walk a mile in another man’s shoes simply to discover how he feels. If you are a true human being, walk the most difficult mile there is to walk — in your own shoes. Only then will you own every success and failure and only then will you understand the breadth of emotions that any other man feels in running that gamut. If he has done the same then he will know you as well.

I am not unsympathetic to the struggles of another. I merely realize that I must first understand the nature of struggle itself before I presume to compare mine to theirs. Unwell though we may be, and occasionally crushed and devoid of all that makes us beautiful, it is incumbent upon us to keep getting up, to keep moving forward, to leave defiant footprints in the efforts we make to grow beyond our damage. Brokenness only works to our benefit when we leave it behind.

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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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