Here are three things that recently happened: I received a thank-you note for an article I wrote, a man carried a box for me, and a waiter at my favorite restaurant gave me a free dessert.
From one perspective none of these things is noteworthy: In the first case I was just doing my job, in the second case I was perfectly capable of carrying the box myself, and in the third case I wouldn’t have ordered the cake if I couldn’t have paid for it along with the rest of my meal.
Through grateful eyes, however, these things individually and collectively are acknowledgements of my worth. I do understand that my value is not based on the way others treat me, but it is affirming to now and then to hear that my scribblings have touched someone, to have a gentleman be willing to help carry my burden, to know that my frequent patronage is appreciated.
“Be kind, one to another” and “Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up,” Ephesians counsels. It seems in today’s world this advice goes unheeded more often than not; on social media especially insults and sneers dominate, and even real-life interactions frequently are laced with latent hostility.
This may be why the three incidents mentioned above have stayed with me – I have become accustomed to receiving only complaints about work, and after decades of hearing about sexual equality some men would assume I’d be insulted if they offered to take the box, and giving away food often is frowned upon by restaurant supervisors. In this world of negativity, positive acts are precious as gold.
The problem with gold is the tendency to hoard it, and so it is with kindness. Despite my Christian upbringing, too often when I have the chance to help my first thought is, “Does the recipient deserve it?” This is true even with compliments, which have no monetary worth.
An example, which happened only last week: I almost withheld a compliment because I begrudged giving the other person a moment in the spotlight. My resentment had nothing to do with their praiseworthy act and everything to do with my complicated history with that person. In the end I gave the praise, which cost me nothing except the swallowing of stubborn pride, and from the reaction to my gesture of goodwill I suspect I may have gained the smoothing over of some old hurts.
I am not proud of the fact that I only reluctantly gave the deserved kudos. I like to think I’m a better person than one who refuses to speak well of another because of past pettiness, but apparently I’m not. It’s much easier to allow ancient slights to continue to fester rather than to swallow the temptation to continue the frivolous feuding. But if I do not take advantage of an opportunity to affirm others, why should I expect them to do otherwise?
Many years ago a friend moved out into the country. One day he told about having car problems that caused him to pull off the road. Not too long afterward, along came a neighbor, who helped him out.
“The thing is,” my friend said, “you have to do the same for them in order to keep it going.”
The idea of a circle of kindness is not new. “Carry out a random act of kindness, with no expectation of reward, safe in the knowledge that one day someone might do the same for you,” said Diana, Princess of Wales.
Another, more selfish, reason to do kindness also occurs: I have within me the power to be God’s mouth, to paraphrase St. Teresa of Avila. Mine can be the mouth to utter an encouraging word, mine can be the hands to help carry another’s burden, mine can be the gesture that brightens the day, and the joy that will bring me will be more precious than gold.
Marie Mischel is editor of the Intermountain Catholic.