Kindness Is Everything

by Melannie Svoboda SND on September 29, 2014

Sometimes I think kindness is everything. Now some people might disagree with me and argue that love is everything. Maybe so. But even St. Paul, in his great “Hymn to Charity,” tells the Corinthians that “love is kind” (1 Cor. 13:4).

What is kindness? Here’s my definition: Kindness is treating others with respect and tenderness. That word “others” refers primarily to other peoplebut it includes even myself. Kindness, like charity, begins at home! The word “others” includes more than human beings too. It referskindness wisdom) to all living things—cats, dogs, birds, horses, elephants, whales—and even inanimate things such as buildings, beaches, rivers, stones. The word “respect” means we have regard for people and things, we value them, we hold them in esteem. I added “tenderness” to my definition of kindness because I can’t imagine kindness without it. (I also believe the measure of a truly great person is their ability to be tender.)

Why do I think kindness is everything? For one thing, kindness is the bedrock of civilization. It is the “lubricant” that enables people to live easily and well together. I agree with the writer Charles Lucas who said, “Civilization is just a slow process of learning to be kind.” (I would add that maturity is just a slow process of learning to be kind! How many times did our parents have to tell us to say please, say thank you, give Grandma a hug, share your toy with your cousin, close your mouth when you chew, speak with your indoor voice—all directives on how to be kind.)

Kindness tends to be expressed in concrete little acts: we smile at someone, we hold the door open for them, we give another driver a break in traffic, we pay attention to someone who’s talking, we toss our litter into the trash bin, we speak respectfully to and about others, we clean up after ourselves, we recycle, we do small favors for others. Kindness must be directed toward everyone, not just toward people we like or people we agree with. Genuine kindness is bestowed on individuals even when they don’t deserve it. Kindness is also ubiquitous. No matter who or where you are, no matter your circumstances, you can be kind.

kindness scatter

The Dalai Lama has said, “My religion is very simple. My religion is kindness.” I think he has something there. Though dogmas, prayers, and rituals are important, they mean very little without kindness.

Jesus must have been an extremely kind person. Why else were so many diverse people so attracted to him? Jesus expressed kindness in his teachings, his manner of living, and his manner of dying. When he spoke about love, he described simple acts of kindness: visiting someone in prison, comforting one who mourns, giving clothes to those in need, giving a cup of water to the thirsty. His final acts were all about kindness: his tender concern for his mother,

kindness benefits)his amazing promise to the good thief, his incredible forgiveness of those who were putting him to death.

I think when someone is kind to me, something physical happens to me. I smile, I breathe easier, I relax, I feel better. Similarly, when I am kind, something happens to me. I smile, I breathe easier, I relax, I feel better. Kindness is good for both giver and receiver. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn someday that kindness lowers blood pressure or increases those good endorphins we read so much about.

Naomi Shihab Nye has written a poignant poem entitled “Kindness” in which she links kindness to the experience of sorrow. She writes, “Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,/ you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.” Plato wrote something in a similar vein: “Be kind; everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”

Life is good, yes, but sometimes it is a hard battle. May our own experience of life’s challenges and sorrows be an impetus for us to be reach out to others in kindness.

What do you think?

Does the kindness of others help you face life’s challenges and sorrows?

(For personal reflection: How kind are you?)

PS:  Thank you for you wishes and prayers for my birthday last week and your positive words about this blog. WOW! I was deeply touched by your kindness!

{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

Kathleen Magiera September 29, 2014 at 5:28 am

Sr. Melannie,

Great reflection! I think that kindness softens me and rounds out the rough edges. Kindness gives me pause and allows me to see suffering in a different light.

Thank you for this blog. It almost always gives me pause.

Kathleen

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Mary Ann September 29, 2014 at 10:05 am

“Be kind be kind and you will be a saint” a Blessed Sacrament priest once quoted it to me.
Looking forward to the Avila Day of Prayer, sister!

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Mary Schneider September 29, 2014 at 10:19 am

Kindness fills me with a comforting warmth; my own as well as the kindness of others. I marvel every weekend at our Parish “greeter”, she is such a loving and cheerful person, she greets us all with a smile and a hug, and never forgets a name. Her kindness to others encourages me to be kinder.

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Cathy Baier September 29, 2014 at 10:40 am

I have always liked that quote from Plato; you never know what someone else is going through and it takes very little to be kind. Whether giving or receiving kindness changes how I feel physically. Kindness is contagious. The kindness of others when I need it most has often moved me to tears.
Another quote on kindness from one of my heroes Mister Rogers: There are three ways to ultimate success. The first way is to be kind. The second way is to be kind. The third way is to be kind.”

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mary james September 29, 2014 at 12:37 pm

How can you be truly loving without being kind? An how can you be kind without being loving?

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Joy Martin September 29, 2014 at 1:27 pm

It is a great story…kindness is like a hot fudge sundae…you feel so
good giving or receiving this gift….Thank you again & again!

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Sr. Celeste Albers September 29, 2014 at 2:16 pm

Thank you so much for this article on kindness! I have been in pastoral ministry for 30 years, and I always believed that the person who is responsible for prayer needs to live it in his/her life. I was privileged to work with a priest the last ten years who lived what he preached! What a gift! His prayer was powerful, and I never saw him “mow down” a liturgical minister, like I had seen so many times before. I thank God he continues this ministry to this very day!

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Larry Cummins September 29, 2014 at 2:55 pm

Dear Sr. Melannie,

One of my favorite bumper stickers states that we should practice random kindness and senseless acts of beauty. To me kindness is something that is undeserved by another and which changes them and their surroundings for the better .

It causes them and everything about them to be saturated with the love of God. Kindness not only affects those who receive but also those who give by filling their lives with the gift of joy. May we each be touched by this gift of God which just keeps on giving.

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Georgia Auckly September 29, 2014 at 4:39 pm

My mother always taught us to be kind. She said that her mother always taught her to be kind to everyone. And so we should always pass it on as well!

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anita c September 29, 2014 at 8:46 pm

Great topic sister! my favorite thing
about it was the wonderful quotes. I have not always been kind and have lost because of it. I can certainly identify with what Charles Lucas said about civilization being a slow process in learning to be kind. I’m one of the slow learners but I’m making strides. these insightful blogs help me reflect and move forward to being a kinder more loving person. Thanks a bunch!

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Barb September 30, 2014 at 12:31 pm

I would also like to encourage acknowledgement of kindness. A smile, a thank you, or a wave to someone when they show a kindness is both good for the giver and the receiver of a kindness.

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Barbara September 30, 2014 at 3:02 pm

Your best so far–the 70th year of life and you are helping so many people. This one made me cry because so many people could do with just one small act of kindness. It could change the world.

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Jean Shott September 30, 2014 at 4:05 pm

We often hear the “golden rule” – do unto others as you would have them do unto you. If we thought about that in terms of kindness what a different world we would have! No wars, hunger, crime!
Saw a saying on a t-shirt I thought you would like: “Prayer, the world’s greatest wireless connection”!

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Karleena October 2, 2014 at 12:36 am

I love to just “say out loud” the beautiful things that God helps me notice, like: the clean bathrooms at the university I attend, how kind the cashier is, how beautiful a young woman looks as she is assessing herself in the mirror, how lovely the landscapers are making our campus, how kindly the cafeteria server is explaining the menu options… I just affirm the love I see and feel “out loud”. I decided that it is worth it to take the risk- life is too short to be quiet! 🙂

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Debbie October 12, 2014 at 12:18 pm

Ditto!

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Debbie Harris October 2, 2014 at 10:29 am

Such a beautiful God honoring post, sister Melanie.
Your statement that” I also believe the measure of a truly great person, is their ability to be tender.” So true! How can we express kindness if we are not tender hearted?
These words were a beautiful reminder as I begin my day, thank you.
Sweet blessings to you, Debbie

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Mike C October 2, 2014 at 6:24 pm

Sister,

Thank you so much for your weekly reflections. They have made a big difference in my spiritual life each week. I look forward to reflecting on your words every Monday morning.

Mike

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Debbie October 12, 2014 at 12:25 pm

Self-centered as I am, I spontaneously smiled at a man next to me in line at the Post Office. He looked surprised and we began a short conversation. I felt kindness flowing through me. I think kindness is a grace, it comes from God and it feels soooooo good when I let it out!

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Kim November 13, 2014 at 11:08 am

I agree that kindness makes the world go ’round! Everyone could use a little more. Jesus is the perfect example. And I can’t believe I haven’t seen the Piano Guys until now! Made my day!

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