Many years ago my parents’ car broke down four hours from home. Having just left an Atlanta Braves’ game, they had barely enough cash left over to pay the tow truck driver. But nothing else.
They looked everywhere for a hotel, but Atlanta had nothing to offer. This was a time when most places required payment in cash only. They were pretty nervous.
They finally happened upon a location where the owner told them her place was full, but when she saw the predicament they were in with my two younger brothers in tow, she made an outrageous offer. She already had plans to stay with her daughter that night, leaving her own apartment empty . . . so she boldly invited these strangers (my family) to stay the night in her home, no charge.
What kind of a person does that?
Joseph Wirthlin once said:
“Kindness is the essence of greatness and the fundamental characteristic of the noblest men and women . . . Kindness is a passport that opens doors and fashions friends. It softens hearts and molds relationships that can last lifetimes.”
Three Kinds of Kindness
There are so many aspects of kindness, but I just want to focus on three.
Being kind by giving others the benefit of the doubt - not being easily offended
Being kind by withholding criticism
Being kind when others are different than us
Can You Just Give Me the Benefit of the Doubt?
Let’s start with the first one.
About a decade ago I was in the front room ironing a new shirt while packing for an event. To my horror, the fabric was “allergic” to high heat, and the iron immediately left its imprint. At this very moment, a new friend walked into our home, saw the suitcase, and asked where I was headed. I told her I was speaking at a women’s event, and I showed her my ruined shirt. She said, “You’re speaking at a women’s event? What is the topic? Homemaking 101?”
I stared at her. We had just met, and this was the first thing she had to say to me? Her face went totally red, and my embarrassment quickly erupted into laughter. Has something ever popped out of your mouth that you desperately wish you could retract? I am so grateful that I was not offended by my first impression, as we have since become dear friends.
Marvin Ashton shared, “Perhaps the greatest charity comes when we are kind to each other, when we don't judge or categorize someone else, when we simply give each other the benefit of the doubt or remain quiet. Charity is . . . having patience with someone who has let us down; or resisting the impulse to become offended when someone doesn’t handle something the way we might have hoped.”
Truly we are kind when we give others the benefit of the doubt and choose not to be easily offended.
If You Can’t Say Something Nice . . .
Number Two. Being kind by withholding criticism.
I recently read about a mother who complained about her teenage son’s dirty bedroom. She listed all the disgusting elements of his four-walled catastrophe, and ended with a huge sigh. Her ninety-nine-year-old mother in-law suggested that maybe she should look up and tell her son how nice the ceiling looked.
This is good advice for all of us. I’m afraid I’ve been guilty of walking into one of my teenager’s rooms and commenting on everything that is not done instead of acknowledging and thanking them for what they already accomplished.
I appreciate what Marvin Ashton said: “Let us open our arms to each other, accept each other for who we are, assume everyone is doing the best he or she can, and look for ways to leave quiet messages of love and encouragement instead of being destructive and bashing.”
Kindness definitely comes through more clearly when we withhold criticism.
Celebrating our Differences
And finally. Number three. Being kind when others are different than us.
One of my daughters has blue hair. And I have a son-in-law with long hair, braids, and sometimes a man bun.
Would I personally dye my hair blue? I would not. If I were a man would I wear a man bun? Most likely not. So what brings us joy looks different. Their hairstyles have brought them far more confidence than I’ve seen in former years. I’m confident in my brown hair. It’s okay that we are different.
In another example, my friend’s car got stuck in the snow. I couldn’t get her out, so I waited with her until help arrived. A number of cars passed by without pulling over, and then two rough looking men, covered in tattoos, stopped for us. I’m pretty conservative in my looks . . . so again . . . we were different, but these were the nicest, friendliest, and most amazing men. They showed an inordinate amount of kindness to us in our need.
Audre Lorde said, “It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.”
We can be kind when there are differences.
It is all a choice. We can choose kindness by giving others the benefit of the doubt. We can be kind by withholding criticism. And again, we can definitely be kind in small and simple ways when others are different than us. Small and simple acts of kindness are contagious, and don’t you think it would be wonderful if it became an epidemic in our world today?
“Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.” Desmond Tutu
Neal Maxwell once said, “We can decide daily, or in an instant, in seemingly little things, whether we respond with a smile instead of a scowl, or whether we give warm praise instead of exhibiting icy indifference. Each response matters in its small moment.”
So perhaps you and I, in each one of our own small moments, can respond with kindness. And I sincerely believe that in the end, it really does matter.