Try a Little KindnessPosted on: November 29, 2019, by : David
Last Sunday morning, Katrina, Carolyn, Judith and Ann introduced us to the real town behind the musical Come From Away which is currently playing in Melbourne. The people of Gander, a small town in Newfoundland, Canada, welcomed and cared for thousands of unexpected guests when 38 planes were forced to land there during the 9/11 emergency in 2001. The story exercised my mind, particularly around the practice of kindness. The most common themes for Advent and Christmas might be Hope, Peace, Love and Joy, but this year I’m going to make KINDNESS my focus, and I want to encourage you to ‘try a little kindness’ as well!
Of course, very few people would describe themselves as unkind, or seek to hurt others, but kindness isn’t simply choosing to do no harm, it is actively choosing to do good. Do you see the difference? The practice of kindness is very susceptible to the ‘sin’ of omission – the mantra ‘seek to do no harm’ is a good one, but it is not as constructive as actively seeking to do kindness. We know from our own experience how disappointing it can be when people don’t do something – don’t say thank you, don’t call to check when we are unwell, don’t turn up for coffee, etc.. And we know how different it feels when people do surprise us with a compliment, a thank you note, a phone call, flowers, etc.. Those random acts of kindness make a difference. And the better world for which we yearn might just be built on the everyday practice of kindness toward others, friend and stranger alike.
There is a risk in this, of course. Sometimes our kindness might be misinterpreted or rejected or cost us something. Which is why we have learnt over so many years to be suspicious and wary of people, particularly those we don’t know, protecting ourselves from the hurt of rejection and not readily disclosing the secrets of our soul. But the passive ‘do no harm’ approach has contributed to a society in which too many people are isolated and lonely, in which there is an epidemic of depression, in which creation itself is groaning as a result of the apathy and agnosticism of our time. American author, commentator, champion of sacred earth theology, Thomas Berry, captures it well when he writes “If the earth does grow inhospitable toward human presence, it is primarily because we have lost our sense of courtesy (kindness) toward the earth and its inhabitants.”
We can change the world – people and earth – by intentionally practising kindness toward all life: from little things like saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you’, smiling at (or even saying ‘good morning’ to) the people we pass in the street, patiently waiting our turn, letting cars into our lane even if it means we miss the lights; to bigger things like reducing our carbon footprint, making ethical clothing purchases and being generous to those in need.
It is no coincidence that the practice of kindness is one of the cornerstone values of virtually all the world’s religions: it is the first of the three great treasures advocated by Lao Tzu; the Buddha taught that generosity is a primary quality of an awakened mind; Muhammad regarded kindness as an essential sign of faith; Jewish ethics are built upon deeds of kindness; and Christian teaching, modelled on the life of Jesus, proclaims kindness as a virtue, a ‘fruit of the Spirit’.
Frederick Beuchner has suggested that kindness is one of the doors through which holiness enters the world. On that basis, our practice of kindness has the potential to sanctify the world, to reclaim the holiness (goodness) with which the Creator endowed Creation. How exciting to be part of a movement like that!
Diana Krall’s song Narrow Daylight includes the line ‘Is the kindness we count upon hidden in everyone?’ It is the yearning of our soul, perhaps evidenced by a town like Gander, that we might answer ‘YES!’ to that question. Let us add to the evidence this Christmas as, together, we choose to ‘try a little kindness.’