Our lives are such a bundle of complications that it is difficult to remember the power of kindness. We are all busy, and we all have our own pressures, challenges and even demons. It is all too easy to descend entirely into ourselves. We all need to step back and remind ourselves that we can still be kind to others.
The COVID pandemic has made things even more difficult. All of us have had to limit our contact with others for more than two years. And COVID cases are increasing right now. What does it mean to try to live through this? We can all be a little wary of one another under normal circumstances — and circumstances have been far from normal. Have we forgotten how to live with one another? Perhaps.
And beyond this, we have all seen how political extremism has made things worse. Our society is deeply polarized and full of conflict. We have lost the trust that was once part of our society. All of this makes us vulnerable. And it is all too easy to dismiss the pain of others.
Now is the time for kindness, and yet we see people giving in to anger and frustration all around us. We are a country enraged. In a recent trip to the grocery store, a man began yelling at my wife for touching some grapes to see if they were fresh. He was out of control. He couldn’t think straight, and he had no respect for fruit or what might be going on in the lives of others.
I am not preaching to you to be more religious. Many religions champion kindness, but even if you reject all religion, you know that kindness helps us all. And I need to remember this just as much as you. I don’t tend to get angry, but I am prone to judge people too quickly, and I can be dismissive of others’ pain. I need to do better. We all need to do better.
What is kindness, anyway? I would define it as the act of recognizing that someone else matters. It doesn’t mean that we have to agree with the way someone else lives or the decisions that someone else makes. It just means that we want others to know that they matter.
Sometimes we fail to be kind to those closest to us. We are impatient with our husbands or wives, we neglect our siblings. We fail to reach out to our children or our friends. We might even know that they need some attention, but we are busy. We have our own problems. We wonder why others are not kind to us, but we don’t always think that we need to be kind to others.
And in my opinion, kindness doesn’t necessarily involve being friendly. We can be kind to complete strangers without embracing them as friends. We might not even want to be friends with them. But they still deserve a little kindness.
And this is true for everyone. Their lives are important to the fabric of the universe, even if they are poor or damaged, or even if they have made regrettable choices in life — even if they belong to a different political party.
I wouldn’t even identify kindness as the most important thing in the world. I think justice is more important. And I would place wisdom above kindness. But kindness matters, and sometimes we need it more than anything. Sometimes we might need it in order to survive for another day. And you can be the person who reaches out to make this happen. That is an absolutely amazing thought. You have the power to make a real difference in someone’s life.
What is an act of kindness? There is no way to define it. Every act is unique to time, place and circumstance. It cannot be defined, but it will escape us if we are not open to the world around us. We will fail to notice the person who needs kindness. So the first step is to be aware of others and pay attention to their needs. We need to step outside of ourselves before we can reach out to others.
Have I said anything really new here? I doubt it. But it is easy to lose sight of things that we know, so a gentle reminder is always a good thing. And after you reach out to someone else with kindness, remember to be kind to yourself as well.
Solomon D. Stevens is the author of “Religion, Politics, and the Law” (co-authored with Peter Schotten) and “Challenges to Peace in the Middle East.” He wrote this for InsideSources.com.