I haven’t been a kind person in my past. I have tried to be reasonable, fair, honest, law-abiding, understanding and helpful, but kindness as a specific goal hasn’t been actively sought. It was not avoided but it wasn’t sought either. Perhaps in very specific situations I have been kind and in community situations I try hard to do far more than my share of the work in preparations and in greeting people. But in my relationship with those people, it has been my intent to help them feel welcome and comfortable, but even then I wasn’t motivated by kindness.
In the last year I have observed some friends who are much more friendly and kind than I am and they have been worth carefully observing. For example, I have the habit of asking questions and getting into real discussions of what seems like substance rather than a polite hello and then social commentary on the weather. It seems the truly friendly people don’t talk much of either of those things, but rather they discuss briefly the other person’s family, where they have been and what they have been doing. After greeting people many times over the weeks and years these become real heart-felt conversations even if they are brief.
My thoughts on kindness as a virtue are aimed at helping the person get centered on their life track and doing what they are attempting to do more successfully. I have been talking to people about abstract things, because I tend to think in grand abstractions, but to be kind to a person means knowing their needs and doing specific things to aid them in those needs. Because I talk about abstractions I don’t get into the specifics of other people’s needs, and yet by my recent thoughts on kindness it becomes apparent that kind deeds are very specific to the individual. Therefore, to be kind it is necessary to know the person and some details of their life before they can be helped.
My idea at present is to do only the smallest possible thing that will successfully bring them into a path which will get them where they are headed. The kindness isn’t the size of what I do, but the amount needed by the other person. My intent isn’t to lift them out of their problem, but to do what is necessary so they can begin lifting themselves out.
Kindness to our fellow creatures is the ultimate goal of wisdom. The goal of education is to develop a capacity for productive action. We need to get our orientation aimed at a worthy goal and then get the tools via our education necessary to reach our goal. We need the common-sense wisdom to proceed properly, but when we have acquired that we can proceed personally and we can share our new found ability with our acts of kindness. My starting point for going on this quest was back in the 60s when Bob Westerburg a close coffee-shop and Channing Club friend quoted the well known Proverb:
“Get wisdom, get understanding: forget it not; neither decline from the words of my mouth. Forsake her not, and she shall preserve thee: love her, and she shall keep thee. Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding.” – Proverbs 4:1-7 KJV
I of course knew that old saw, but it struck me when Bob said it I really started chasing what it meant full time. I was focused on that for idea for several years, and only now, after many various wanderings am coming back to it with the eyes of a near geriatric.
Understand your fellow man and then give him the kindness he needs.