What type of kindness fits your life best?

5 mins read

Whether in giving or receiving, kindness isn’t one-size-fits-all.

You know this even if you’ve never really given it much thought, because what you give — and what you get — varies among the many relationships in your life.

We give one thing to a spouse, another thing to a child or parent, and something altogether different to a sibling, friend or coworker. And the same goes from a spouse, a child or a parent, and from a sibling, friend or coworker. And maybe even to and from a stranger.

Love is kind

It’s all under the huge umbrella of love, as St. Paul points out: “Love is patient, love is kind” (1 Cor 13:4).

Love is kind, and being kind is more than “kind of” important when it comes to love. It’s a key ingredient. You can’t truly be loving without kindness. You can’t truly be kind without love.

In his infinite wisdom (and kindness), God has given us humans a lot of ways to love one another. Again, you know that’s high on his list. Jesus’ “love one another as I have loved you” (Jn 13:34) includes an unsaid “be kind to one another as I have been kind to you.”

But wait a minute.

What is kindness? A basic definition is far from satisfying. “Kindness is the quality or state of being kind.” Would it be unkind here to comment, “Well, duh”?

Love is patient

OK, let’s look at it from this angle: To be kind is to be affectionate or loving. It’s to be sympathetic or helpful. To be forbearing. (That is, for example, putting up with some really annoying habits of some really annoying people.) It’s another word for being patient.

Oh, yeah. That. “Love is patient.”

But back to kindness. Someone who’s kind gives another person pleasure or relief. At work, for example, it’s dropping off some doughnuts in the breakroom. Or being willing to listen to a fellow worker-bee sputter and mutter about a boss. Or, let’s be honest here, it’s a boss listening to a peer sputter and mutter about a worker.

Six considerations

1. Fortunately, as with many virtues, kindness is habit-forming. After some initial deliberate effort and with regular maintenance, it can become a way of life. It can be, to use a modern term, our default setting. It’s not that we’re kind without thought, because kindness is the opposite of thoughtlessness. Rather, it becomes one of our first thoughts. Not a knee-jerk reaction, more of a don’t-be-a-jerk reaction. A supernatural gift becomes our natural response.

Yes, to commit random acts of kindness — a phrase and suggestion that was all the rage some years back — is a very good idea, but so, too, is planning some targeted acts.

2. Nine times out of 10 (disclaimer: this has not been scientifically verified) kindness takes little time, effort or money. Most acts of kindness are generally small on the giving end and potentially huge on the receiving.

A kind word, a favor without being asked, a pat on the back, and on and on.

Perhaps, at its core, kindness is seeing and recognizing another person and that person’s need at that moment. It’s Matthew 25 writ small — whatever we do or don’t do for others, we do or don’t do for Jesus. A dollar to a homeless person begging on the street. An email to a homebound friend. A prayer, a vigil candle, a Mass for an extended family member going through a difficult time.

Not earthshaking acts but, to one degree or another, soul-changing acts. For the one receiving the kindness and for the one offering it.

3. Strange to say, but it’s possible to have “kindness envy” and “kindness blindness” — the former when we see or hear of the kindness of another and know we can’t match it perfectly. So, to us, our attempts look feeble. For example, we can’t make the big monetary donation or hefty time commitment.

Take heart. We can be — and perhaps are — the widow in Mark 12 who put the two small coins into the collection box.

And then there’s “kindness blindness.” This does not mean the inability to see someone who needs our touch of kindness, or not offering it in whatever way is best. No, this is something else. This is something good for us. Often, it seems, we don’t see the effect our kindness has on someone else. That dollar, that email, that prayer. But God sees. God knows.

What if we did see the many effects of all the good that we do? Now that might lead us into dangerous territory. Not a minefield but a “pridefield.”

4. Here’s the truth — and this is without promoting pride — no one can offer kindness exactly the way you do, because no human being ever was or ever will be exactly like you. (You little snowflake!) God hasn’t given anyone the exact same ways to show kindness to others that he’s given you. Day in and day out. Decade in and decade out. That’s how highly God thinks of you and trusts you to share his love.

5. And now, we’ll flip the point of view. Who are we — who are you — to deny someone the opportunity to be kind to you? (Again, pride seems to be in here somewhere.) “I don’t need help. I don’t take charity. I don’t want a handout.” Ay yi yi! Do we listen to ourselves?

We don’t need anyone? Ever? Of course we do. Everyone does. Can it be humbling to accept help? Sometimes. Is it wrong to be humble? (Now, that sounds like a trick question.) Ask Jesus, who was “meek and humble of heart” (Mt 11:29).

6. No matter our circumstances, kindness gives us the opportunity to be like St. Peter was after Pentecost: “I have neither silver nor gold, but what I do have I give you” (Acts 3:6). He could offer healing; we can offer kindness. Always.

Bill Dodds writes from Washington.

Five easy ways to be unkind
1. Don’t tip. Members of the service industry get a salary, right? If they wanted more money or needed more money, they should get a higher-paying job. Their choice. Be a big fan of “up by your own bootstraps.”

2. Lean toward the “prosperity Gospel.” That is, God rewards good people with big, big bucks. (This being much more popular among those who are financially — cough, cough — “comfortable.”) A prime example? The Blessed Mother who … well, no. Her life and circumstances aren’t a good example.

3. Don’t sympathize. And for heaven’s sake, never empathize! The first means “to feel for.” The second, “to feel with.” Don’t feel sorry for those who depend on food banks and such. (See No. 2. Yes, No. 2 is a real gem.) And don’t recall your own feelings when you depended on food banks and such.

4. Become a relatively silent but fully self-satisfied martyr when it comes to doing for others. To overdoing for them to the detriment of your physical, mental, emotional and spiritual well-being. Pay no attention to the fact that “love your neighbor as you love yourself” includes being kind to yourself. And ignore the reality that when it comes to this type of “martyrdom,” it’s the person’s family, friends and co-workers who really suffer.

5. Get in a self-righteous huff — there’s nothing quite as satisfying — if someone fails to thank you or show you a common courtesy. Match your response, or lack of response, to theirs. For instance, no holiday card from a longtime friend this year? No excuse for such behavior. Firmly cross her off your Christmas card list for next year. Peace and joy in a pig’s eye.

And now, a word of caution. Are you feeling pretty cocky after reading this list and realizing, “I’ve never done any of those things”? Good for you. But, just as many of our acts of kindness are one-of-a-kind, because each of us is like no other, so too is it with our acts of unkindness.

With a little prayer and a little examination of conscience, you could probably come up with your own list.

Ouch! But a good ouch.

Bill Dodds

Bill Dodds writes from Washington.