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It is said that kindness is the thing most sought for in a spouse. That every culture in the world values kindness as one of the cardinal virtues, but if this is true then kindness would be bred into the human genome. Perhaps it is, but if it is so desired a trait it would be as strong in the genes as is the human ability to speak. The Free Dictionary has a listing for Kindness, of course, but its list of similes for that word is strangely remote from the simple generous helping of a fellow creature. Read their list while considering if this what all of the cultures of the world are seeking.

The Free Dictionary – Kindness

  1. (You’re) as good as an umbrella on a wet day —H. E. Bates [This is mechanical and has little to do with intentional kindness.]
  2. As kind as Santa Claus —Oscar Hammerstein II, from lyric for South Pacific [If you were good you got presents, if not you got punishments.]
  3. As much compassion as a toreador moving in for the final thrust —Marilyn Sharp [Is cold-blooded murder for sport a kindness? The bull would have preferred to return to his life, his pasture and his cows.]
  4. As occupied with worthy projects as Eleanor Roosevelt —Lisa Harris [This was a kind lady to the extreme, but it needs an example.]
  5. Doing a favor for a bad man is quite as dangerous as doing an injury to a good one —Plautus [This is a warning not to do a kindness to anyone, because all of us have our bad parts.]
  6. Exuding good will like a mortician’s convention in a plague year —Daniel Berrigan [What has this to do with kindness? It appears to be applauding suffering.]
  7. Gifts are as the gold which adorns the temple; grace is like the temple that sanctifies the gold —William Burkitt [Gifts of gold are arrogant and expensive, but kindness is humble and inexpensive.]
  8. Gifts are like fish hooks —Epigram, c. 65 b.c. [Is this saying kindness is used to trap the unwary fish?]
  9. Gifts are like hooks —Martial [Gifts snag people too? There is something which feels selfish and evil in this concept of gifts.]
  10. As good as gold —Charles Dickens; A simile that’s become a common expression. In A Christmas Carol, its most frequently quoted source, it’s a response to the question “And how was Tiny Tim today?” In The Gondoliers, W. S. Gilbert gave it a nice twist with “In the wonder-working days of old, when hearts were twice as good as gold’. In Joseph Heller’s novel Good As Gold it serves as a play on the hero’s name (Bruce Gold). [Too remote and complex to comment reasonably upon, but it seems obscure and not simple as kindness is thought to be.]
  11. (He’ll be) good as pie —Ring Lardner [This seems to be related to good behavior and not kindness.]
  12. A good heart … a heart like a house —Irwin Shaw [This is like one who is obedient to conventional expectations. That is a good thing but not so sublime as kindness.]
  13. The good is, like nature, an immense landscape in which man advances through centuries of exploration —José Ortega Gassett [Good is a fine thing, but it is different from kindness.]
  14. Good to the core like bananas —Marge Piercy [Once again good is a fine thing but it is conventional and kindness is a unique kind of action.]
  15. Good will … is like gentle sunshine in early spring. It invigorates and awakens all buds —Berthold Auerbach [Replace Good will with human kindness and this would be an metaphorical illustration of kindness.]
  16. Great minds, like heaven, are pleased in doing good, though the ungrateful subjects of their favors are barren in return —Nicholas Rowe [Great minds go astray as often as modest ones and kindness is always available to the lowest of persons.]
  17. A hand as liberal as the light of day —William Cowper [Liberality isn’t always a kindness, especially when giving away other people’s goods and money, like the politicians do.]
  18. A heart as big as a bird cage —James B. Hall [A cute image, but what does it mean?]
  19. A heart as big as a mountain —Anon [Even bigger question of meaning?]
  20. Heart … as great as the world —Ralph Waldo Emerson; In Emerson’s essay, Greatness, the simile continues with “But there was no room in it to hold the memory of a wrong.” [This is a fine idea but it doesn’t seem very close to a simple act of kindness.]
  21. A heart as warm as a desert storm —Ogden Nash [Interesting image but it doesn’t relate to any specific human kindness.]
  22. A heart like duck soup —Jean Garrigue; In his short story, The Snowfall, Garrigue elaborates on the duck soup comparison as follows: “She’s the kind to want to stop a car if she hears some animal crying in the woods.” [This works as a kindness illustration if she then hurries to help the injured crier and not just listen to its plaintive calls for help.]
  23. A heart like warm putty —Mary Stewart [Okay this is nice, but we need illustrations of kindness not assertions friendliness that can be manipulated.]
  24. Heart … soft as any melon —Franklin Pierce [Nice enough, but what has this person done and is doing and is going to do?]
  25. He gives up a buck as quickly as he would a tattoo —Anon [This shows his willingness to serve out money and sound, but we need illustrations of kindness.]
  26. A helping word to one in trouble is often like a switch on a railroad track … an inch between wreck and smooth-rolling prosperity —Henry Ward Beecher [This is specific and meaningful of what kindness really is all about, but what the characteristics of that word would be is desperately needed.]
  27. He was like Florence Nightingale —Tennessee Williams, Playboy, April, 1973; Williams used the Florence Nightingale simile to describe his agent’s devotion when he was ill. [This needs something specific.]
  28. (My mother is) soft as a grape —Rita Mae Brown [This isn’t helpful as to what a kind behavior would be.]
  29. Kindness as large as a prairie wind —Stephen Vincent Benet [This is descriptive of a natural phenomenon, but how does it apply to human kindness? Kindness is much more than blowing wind.]
  30. Kindness is like a baby; it grows fast —Anon [I find this statement difficult to cope with because there seems to be so little concept of what kindness really means in human actions. The total quantity of kindness in the world seems to be growing but it isn’t growing fast.]
  31. Kindness is like snow; it beautifies everything it covers —Anon caller on night-time radio talk show [I like the image, but it still doesn’t give a clue as to what kindness really consists of.]
  32. Kindness, like grain, increases by sowing —H. G. Bohn’s Handbook of Proverbs [This growing is possibly true, but it could be said about any human behavior that can be copied. But, the essence of kindness isn’t to be copied because it is personal and unique in every event.]
  33. A kind word is like a Spring day —Russian proverb [This is a real illustration of a kindness. It would have been helpful if there was some implication of what types of words would be best in various situations.]
  34. Made the Good Samaritan look like a cheap criminal —George Ade [I hope there was some surrounding text which made this evil-sounding statement into a kindness. The Good Samaritan was helping a person, who was considered a despised person by the Samaritan’s friends, and that would be the ultimate of kindness.]
  35. Mercy among the virtues is like the moon among the stars, not so sparkling and vivid as many, but dispensing a calm radiance that hallows the whole —E. H. Chapin [Mercy is a sub-category of kindness, or perhaps I should say they sometimes overlap. Mercy applies to persons under some form of control and intentionally eases suffering. Kindness isn’t controlling but rather is helpful to finding a smoother way forward.]
  36. (My mother was as) mild as any saint —Alfred, Lord Tennyson [A part of kindness is mildness in helping a child find his way.]
  37. My bounty is as boundless as the sea —William Shakespeare [Great and stupendous gifts are not the same as kindness and much of the time they are the opposite.]
  38. Our bounty, like a drop of water, disappears when diffused too widely —Oliver Goldsmith [Kindness is humble not bountiful and it should diffuse.]
  39. The place of charity, like that of God, is everywhere —Jaques Benigne Bossuet [Charity can be a kindness, but often it is an anchor.]
  40. (She was unsparing of herself, she) poured herself out like cream (into the cups of these dull people) —Sumner Locke Elliott [A kindness helps the person find a way to fulfill their destiny, and not to live on the gifts of others.]
  41. The record of a generous life runs like a vine around the memory of our dead —Robert G. Ingersoll [Generosity and kindness sometimes overlap but a kindness is specific in its helpfulness.]
  42. Shone [with kindness] like the best of good deeds —Frank Swinnerton [There are many kinds of good deeds, but kindness is specific to a person and a situation.]
  43. Solicitous as St. Peter —Norman Mailer, about David Susskind [Solicitous may have some overlap with kindness but it isn’t definitional or illustrative.]
  44. A sympathetic heart is like a spring of pure water bursting forth from the mountain side —Anon [A sympathetic heart is needed for a person to see the needs of another individual so that the offered kindness will be helpful. But, to be a kindness requires some human forethought.]
  45. To do a kindness to a bad man is like sowing our seed in the sea —Phocylides [There is so much bad in the best of us, and good in the worst of us – that doing a kindness will nearly always be beneficial to humanity.]
  46. Unselfish as the wind —Ken Kesey [Kindness must be totally unselfish at the moment of the kind act which makes possible a good way forward for a person whose life is blocked.]
  47. We are never like angels till our passion dies —Thomas Dekker; ‘Never’ is modernized from ‘ne’er.’ [We are as angels when we behave with kindness.]

What this rather long progression from the Free Dictionary’s  complete list of similes illustrates is that there wasn’t much of an understanding of kindness by the selector of the quotes or by those quoted. Partly what this illustrates is that humanity is evolving in its feelings for compassion and kindness. Steven Pinker offers proofs for our moral growth in his new book Better Angels of Our Nature.

I haven’t been kind enough to you, but I will find ways.

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