Long Live the Kind

January 30, 2022

Rev. Douglas Taylor

Sermon video: https://youtu.be/ZpGb6l3gQu8

My colleague Keith Kron relates the following story early in his new book What Really Matters:

            “Sir!” I had just entered the grocery store a few minutes before closing, and when I turned around there was a young African American man rushing toward me, holding something. “Are these your keys?”

            They were. “Thank you,” I said.

            “No problem, sir. They were in front of the store. They must have fallen out of your pocket when you hurried in.”

            When would I have noticed? I had been trying to get out of the cold, too stubborn to put my gloves on and regretting it.

            “Let me give you something,” I stammered, realizing what it would feel like if my home and car keys were lost.

            He smiled and shook his head. “It’s nothing. Anyone would have done this.” He dashed off before I could say, “No they wouldn’t.”

            I was left standing there, grateful for this thoughtful teenager, who made my night a lot less anxious than it might have become. I won’t forget his smile either as he handed me my keys before leaving. In an age of incivility, little acts like this young man’s go a long way.                   (p 23)

Kindness is always worth it. Of course, you are not going to find anyone in our community to argue against being kind. Kindness is one of those virtues all agree to be of great value. As renown author Henry James has said: “Three things in human life are important: the first is to be kind; the second is to be kind; and the third is to be kind.”

Firefighters in Florida responded to a call about a man who had a heart attack while mowing his lawn during an extreme summer heat wave. After the paramedics attended to him and rushed him to the hospital, several of the firemen stayed behind to finish mowing the lawn and cleaning up the man’s yard.    (A Year of Living Kindly, by Donna Cameron; p17)

I was reading a book a few months back entitled A Year of Living Kindly by Donna Cameron. Cameron’s premise was that the world could use more kindness and she set out to be a kinder person. She blogged about it, to publicly help herself keep this commitment, for an entire year. Every day, she worked at being a kind person on that specific day. No falling back on, ‘oh I was nice to the cashier last week and that’s my evidence that I’m a kind person.’ Every day required some action for her. I came of age in the ‘80’s, so the slogan by Anne Herbert, “practice random kindness and senseless acts of beauty” really resonates for me.

In the introduction of her book, Donna Cameron writes:

It sounds simple, and it is simple … but it isn’t easy. We don’t always pay attention to our lives; we often act out of habit or in instant response to a perceived insult or provocation. We all have our own insecurities that propel us to act in ways that aren’t always compassionate (or even logical.) We get tired, we become impatient, we grow fearful… Let’s face it, we’re human. (p12)

In short, the author discovered that while we all value kindness, in general people respect and admire kindness in others, but it is not easy to be kind all the time. Oh, how that resonates for me more than I care to admit, except that I just admitted it.

It is simple but it is not easy to be kind all the time. It takes attention and intention to keep being kind each day. But it can be something we practice and develop in ourselves. It was Martin Kornfield who said, “If we all do one random act of kindness daily, we might just set the world in the right direction.”

As today’s worship associate, Karen Marsh sent me an article https://healthyhumanlife.com/blogs/news/being-kind from her research about some studies linking kindness with happiness. So often we talk about how being kind is something we do for others, but there is a benefit to the one who is kind. Studies show that being kind is good for your heart, it boosts your immune system, even slows the effects of aging. There are several studies about something that has been called the “kindness feedback loop” which essentially reveals that kindness makes us happy and happiness makes us kind. One specific example from the article:

Studies show that acts of kindness can ease social anxiety. In one study, college students who had scored high on a social anxiety assessment were separated into three groups. Researchers asked one group to engage in three acts of kindness a day, two days a week, for four weeks. They asked members of the second group to simply try to be more social with people, and members of the third group to keep a diary of their social interactions. By performing random acts of kindness, members of the first group experienced positive interactions, decreasing their fear of negative interactions and their social anxiety overall.

I suspect one of the impacts of doing acts of kindness is that it helps us practice gratitude. We practice helping others and we end up being grateful that we are in a position to do so. It helps put our lives into perspective.

My colleague Rayla Mattson is a religious educator in Hartford CT. She and I met in a conversation about an animated TV show we both love called Avatar: The Last Airbender. I recently stumbled across this piece she had written about kindness that I found both nuanced and moving.  https://www.uua.org/braverwiser/kindness-others      by Rayla D. Mattson 

My youngest child, who is autistic, has taught me so much — and yet there are times, like our morning bus routine, when her autism causes me anxiety. We have to wait for her bus for up to twenty minutes on a small strip of grass on a busy road, and I have to be very creative to keep her not only entertained but out of the street. (I wonder how many people we entertain each morning.)

One day last month, [this was written about 4 years ago in 2018] a white woman pulled over and ran over to us with a shopping bag. She said she sees us every morning and is so moved by my obvious love and adoration for my daughter that she felt compelled to do something kind for us. She noticed that I never have on a coat and I often stand in the rain. She didn’t know if the things would fit, she said, but the receipt was in the bag. She smiled and drove away.

As I looked down at the bag, I had very mixed emotions. I have a winter coat, but my worn-out sweatshirt is comfortable and too bulky to fit under my coat. I stand in the rain because umbrellas cause anxiety for my little one. Did she do this because I’m black? Why did she feel I needed these items?

I put my daughter on the bus, went inside, and found a note in the bag. She said she’d wanted to stop now for weeks. She was a single mom who had struggled for years to raise her boys. She didn’t know if I needed anything, but was drawn to me and my daughter. The note said to return the items and get what I wanted if I didn’t want what was in the bag.

My eyes filled with tears. Amid these racially tense times and political unrest and horrible acts of violence we see almost daily, she just needed to do something nice for someone. Seeing my daughter and me every day reminded her of the good this world has. I think she needed that connection.

… I sent out a blessing for her to the universe and held on to the notion that there are those of us who want to reach out to others; who believe that there’s goodness in the world, and want to find it. And I am grateful.

My colleague writes “She just needed to do something nice for someone.” We often use the words ‘nice’ and ‘kind’ interchangeably. And it is a remarkable compliment to say someone is a really nice person.

But the distinction we sometimes draw between the two words in not unfounded and is worth noticing. In our reading https://gratbook.com/give/difference-nice-kind-conversation/ this morning, Oliver Johnson wrote: “The warmth of being kind will overpower the pleasant positivity of niceness every time.” I would only caution against always hearing ‘nice’ as something less than ‘kind.’

But it is true. The world ‘Kind’ has its etymological roots in the word ‘kin.’ It describes a virtuous quality at the level of character. One definition of the adjective ‘kind’ is “deliberately doing good to others.” The word ‘Nice,’ on the other hand, seems to be rooted in appearance, precision, and agreeableness. It can also rise to ‘thoughtfulness,’ which is a more recent etymological development.

One blogger https://yaholo.medium.com/stop-being-nice-start-being-kind-ff6177464131 put it like this:

“Being kind to someone means that the only thing on your mind is another person’s well-being when you act. Kindness means that you do something for the benefit of another, without needing a return or payback. Niceness is how we try to climb the social ladder, but kindness is how we lift up others.”

The call to go beyond nice is a call to be real. Kindness calls us to be real.

There is a line in our congregation’s Behavioral Covenant in which we promise to ask ourselves before we speak, “is what I am about to say true, kind, and necessary.” I remember when we were considering the language of this piece before voting to accept it as our covenant, someone raise a possible objection along the following lines: Sometimes we need to do things that would be characterized as unkind. An example offered was needing to fire a staff member.

I said then and still believe it is possible to hold someone accountable while still being kind. It is possible to navigate another person’s bad behavior without becoming mean, to hold a boundary that says ‘no’ while still being kind, while still striving for a productive outcome for everyone involved. I’ve done it. I’m not saying I have done it perfectly every time or have even done it well every time I’ve been called upon to do it – but it is what I strive for and it is possible. Is it true, kind, and necessary? Saying a hard truth or holding necessary consequences can still be done with kindness.

Our society has created this framework of sensationalizing the terrible things that happen around us, the tragedies and traumas we live through. The message seems to be that we all need to return a certain toughness, hold a bit of an edge to live well in this world. As such, kindness is offered as a ‘feel-good story,’ and extra bit of fluff – like it is a rare little something, quaint and unusual.

On Facebook yesterday I saw a man pictured in front of his truck with a snow plow attachment. The message beneath the picture said: “Any homeowner who is elderly, disabled or on a fixed income call me. I’m snow plowing for free and want to be of assistance to you.” He listed his name, what county he was in, and his phone number. This was yesterday morning.

I contend such offers of kindness are not quaint and unusual. They happen quite often and are, in fact, the beating heart of our society. We all want to be more kind. We all want others to be kind with us. It is not bizarre! It is the normal we are longing to experience during this pandemic.

So many of us are lonely and exhausted. We are isolated and overwhelmed dealing with this pandemic and the systemic injustices and societal upheaval we are living though. And yet, our kindness is not just a bit of fluff – it is how we are going to get through this.

The Dalai Lama has said, “My religion is very simple. My religion is kindness.” Desmond Tutu once said, “Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.” And Harold Kushner has said, “When you are kind to others, it not only changes you, it changes the world.”

Indeed, in the final analysis – kindness is what matters most. We all can strive each day to be more kind. Set your intention. Refuse the cynical decline. Reach out. Be Kind. The world needs more kindness.

In a world without end, may it be so.