Kindness Lives in Many Places
Many of us have said these words at some time or another in our lives…..she is a kind woman, or he is a kind man, or she or he is a kind child. What was it that we saw in the interchange we call kindness?
Kindness for me goes back to my childhood. It was early 1960’s and at the age of six I already had five siblings. We lived in a very small house on a street in south Tucson, Arizona. We played in a dirt backyard with sticks we found somewhere else. We were the ragamuffins on the street, no one came to visit us. I’ll always remember our next-door neighbor to the right of us, Mrs. Graham. She would see us playing outside and would then make PP&J sandwiches to hand them over the fence. She would call us gently so not to call attention as she knew our mother would disapprove of her actions. Her generous actions became a bellwether for me as we moved away and I carried her spirit with me.
As a teacher, I saw many children act in a kind way towards other children or animals. Children who would hold burial services for dead birds or toads. Children who would make friends with children who were different from them because they saw others act in more harmful and unkind ways to them.
As I look back over my life and career, I realized that the older I became, I was witnessing fewer and fewer people being kind to one another. Not good! What happened?
When I set out to understand being kind, I didn’t realize how much this human attribute has been discussed and lauded by poets and philosophers, all the way back to Marcus Aurelius’ time, as a necessary connector to one another.
Being kind comes out of knowing that each of us is NOT a 100% potentialized being that is fully independent from the rest of humanity, although at times I fear we think we are. Or, we are SO self-conscious about whether our acts of kindness will be rejected that we don’t want to take a risk – the risk to be vulnerable in front of another person.
There is another, deeper place where kindness lives. It is in the place where we have known sorrow, pain, rejection, illness or other forms of feeling like we are living in exile. Oftentimes, it is from these depths of experience that humanity can be seen in everyone, not just those who look like us, act like us, go to the same schools, or are members of the same congregations.
When we see and connect with the struggles of everyday life of others, we are more likely to engage in acts of kindness. A genuine smile can make a tremendous difference in how another human sees himself or herself from that point on. PP&J sandwiches may not just still hungry bellies, but offer windows to how to be in this world despite the situation you currently find yourself in.
The poem “KINDNESS” by Naomi Shihab Nye reveals the deeper forms of sorrow that she experienced as a route to kindness. I also invite you to click on the link to the soundtrack of her short story within a longer interview of how this poem came to be written.
KINDNESS by Naomi Shihab Nye
Before you know what kindness really is you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know how desolate the landscape can be between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken will stare out the window forever.
Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone who journeyed through the night with plans and the simple breath that kept him alive.
Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice catches the thread of all sorrows and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes and sends you out into the day to mail letters and purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere like a shadow or a friend.
I invite you to share a story or episode that helped you be kind towards others and/or yourself.
What do you think about this poem, what does it say to you? What surprised you? How has kindness shaped your life? Do you have ideas for how our society can increase kindness in ourselves and others? Have you been involved in programs that teach kindness?
Help SHE’s IT Kindness ELM grow with your engagement, learning and motivation.
VP Life Transformation Partners