Of Human Kindness

A long time ago, I decided to aspire to be kind.

I don’t remember why I felt I needed this in my life but I do remember who and the circumstances that inspired it.

Several years ago (I don’t remember exactly when), I was speaking to my mother on the phone and she was telling me about a particularly difficult experience she had been having recently. She had discovered that a beloved friend was going through some serious personal troubles, and when things came to a head for this person, professionally and personally, my mother put in a great deal of effort to try to help. She cleaned their house, cooked their meals and tried to offer what support she could to a person who was, unfortunately, not ready to accept that help and support.

(To protect the privacy of those involved, I won’t provide specifics of this situation.)

Although my mother’s emotions during this time were complicated, I remember my reaction quite well because it suddenly struck me: my mother is an extraordinarily kind person.

Growing up, I had taken this quality for granted. I saw her extend an offer of help before it was asked, prepare meals for people who were ill, send flowers to those who were grieving, give her time to her church and other community groups, and put in extra effort to make family occasions memorable.

But until this conversation, this difficult time that my mother was experiencing, I didn’t realize that not everyone does these things. Not everyone thinks of how they can help others when they most need it. Not everyone gives a little extra effort to make sure their loved ones feel treasured and valued.

I am an inherently selfish person but when it dawned on me that one of the things I respected most about my mother was her kindness towards others, I decided that I needed to be that way as well.

It didn’t happen overnight but I started consciously choosing to be kinder towards people. When I thought negatively about others, I tried to put myself in their shoes. When people needed help, I tried to offer a hand (even when I really didn’t want to). I frequently told myself and others that if I could one day be as kind as my mother, then I would consider my life well-lived.

I set being kind as a goal, and I worked toward it.

Kindness is under-valued in today’s world. I’m not sure why but I suspect it’s because it’s misconstrued as weakness. Our society respects toughness and sometimes, it’s difficult to reconcile kindness with the fortitude necessary to get ahead. A kind nature, it seems, can be easily taken advantage of and a person who exudes compassion may have their sympathies manipulated by the less well-intentioned.

Perhaps it’s for reasons like these that there is not enough kindness in the world.

But my mother is no pushover, and neither am I. Neither of us are easily manipulated, and I think we’re both strong people. Based on this evidence alone, I suggest that kindness does not equal weakness. Rather, I think it’s an indication of the respect we hold for others and the empathy we have for the human condition.

Like many things in life, I think being kind can be a choice.

We can choose to think of others, to lend a hand, to empathize with difficult times. We may not always want to but we can decide when and where to be kind, and everyone – including ourselves – will be a little better off as a result.

One thing that I’ve learned in my life is that everyone is struggling – at all times. So if a little kindness towards your best friend or the person you meet on the street will make their day even the slightest bit easier, why on earth would you not want to do that?

Today, I’m a kinder person than I was 10 years ago. I forgive people easier, I hold fewer grudges, I empathize more with other peoples’ struggles, I value the people in my life more, and I try to show this with my words and actions.

I’m no saint and I’m still an inherently selfish person with a lot to learn. But I’ve cultivated kindness as a habit and I hope it’s becoming part of who I am and the image I project to the world.

Maybe one day I’ll inspire someone to do the same, the way my mother inspired me.

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