I can even go so far as to say that those who preach and celebrate kindness are – in many cases – the worst offenders of being unkind. A perfect example comes to us in every church parking lot after every mass every week.
Long ago, I listened to a Jesuit guest speaker at the church I attended with my Mother. He was less than happy with the congregation. He spoke of kindness and how Christians are supposed to treat people and pretty much called us all hypocrites. His example was the church parking lot after mass.
“You offer each other the sign of peace in the pews, smile and pretend to be kind, and then cut each other off in the parking lot because you have to be before your neighbor,” he said, and I paraphrase for the time that has passed since I listened to him. “You forget every last word of the sermon about being kind and Christian because you have to beat your neighbor to the brunch bar!”
Even after his tongue lashing, the exact scene he described played out in the parking lot after mass. Some didn’t hear it, didn’t get it, or just didn’t care. They went to church; they did their time, now back to “me first, I win, you lose.”
Some will argue that there is enough blame to go around for this malady, if, in fact, they believe it to be a problem at all. It seems the further one gets to the “touchy-feely” Left or the sanctimonious Right, the more they tend to overlook even their own acts of unkindness, even as they tell others what they have to do to be kind.
Some blame violent video games or a capitalist society that puts profit over the person. Others blame a lack of progression to an androgynous society. In reality, all of these are excuses to the acts; pathetic attempts at achieving victimhood so that no one has to take responsibility for their own, individual acts of unkindness.
Kindness lays exclusively with the individual. It is the responsibility of the individual, not the schools, not the government. It is the responsibility of parents to cultivate kindness in their children, fostering an environment where kindness can be experienced, and self-esteem – born out of respect for self and others – can be grown.
Sadly, we have moved now through two generations who have been taught (remember “It Takes a Village”...probably the most dangerous and ignorant book ever written) that everything they do is fantastic and nothing they do warrants consequences; this in an effort to install – not cultivate, but install – self-esteem. In reality, this ultimately flawed line of thinking has created two generations of human beings who have been robbed of the ability to learn from their failures, even as they transverse the streets of the world believing they are better than everyone else.
Learning to overcome adversity allows a child to embrace humility, which is a foundational necessity for kindness to emerge. When someone knows what it’s like to be on the losing end, they act differently toward others in that position, doing so from a position of understanding. They have learned from a position of loss and, therefore are more open to empathy for those who lose before them.
The “your so great” generations do not have this foundation; a foundation on which they would have the ability to embrace kindness. If it has not been taught to them at home, the concept is foreign. Compound this with the fact that one “your so great” generation is now raising the second and the concept of kindness is endangered.
Then there is the question of balance.
Kindness doesn’t always mean rolling over and catering to everyone’s whim. Sometimes kindness comes in the form of “no”; in the form of facilitating a hard lesson so that kindness and humility can be learned and attained by the individual. This goes back to the ability to learn from loss and/or failure. The catch here is that the sanctimonious and self-righteous; those who are moved to manipulate people for personal and political gain, use the illusion of “hard lesson learned” to many times coerce people to their favored end.
So, what can each of us do to advance kindness? The answer to the monumental problem is simple: Be brave, be benevolent, be honest, and be responsible (hat-tip to my sister for her advise “Be brave and be kind”):
- Walk a mile in someone else's shoes before passing judgment and if at all possible, don’t pass judgment at all.
- Don’t try to change people, instead accept them for who they are and apply them to your life like oils to a canvas; your life being a painting.
- Don’t meddle in other peoples’ affairs unless they ask for your opinion, and even then make sure your advice is constructive and insightful; words that allow the person to think for themselves, and not destructive words meant to have them “do it your way” (it’s their life after all, not your).
- Be selfless when warranted and helpful when needed.
- Accept apologies and forgive those who earnestly ask for forgiveness, and do so without caveat.
- Insist on staying in a positive mindset even when it is easier to be negative.
- And in any situation – in every situation, find the good, affect the good, nurture the good, be the good.
Are these suggestions all it takes to be kind; to advance kindness? No, I am sure they are not. Am I guilty of not following my own advice? Absolutely. I find myself failing all the time. But I learn from my mistakes and try to be a better person because of my recognition of those mistakes. It is a gift my parents gave to me in both nurturing me to be kind and in letting me fail to learn from my lessons.
This Easter Sunday, as we reflect on the true meaning of the day, let’s celebrate the ultimate act of kindness; the ultimate act of selflessness, by dedicating the rest of our lives to being kind, responsible, caring positive people.
And that starts in the church parking lot...