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How hard is it, really, to be kind?
This has been my wife's rhetorical question/advice to me since we married 44 years ago. Luckily, thanks to her, kindness and "niceness" has been imparted to both our children in spades.
My wife’s emphasis on niceness and kindness to others reminds me that every human being has a story to tell. Sometimes they are stories of pain, injustice, deceit or crime, but more often than not, once we open our ears we hear stories very akin to our own happier experiences.
Every day has 24 hours. Many people use most of those hours for themselves, but one way to use time well is to show kindness to others. The truth is, many of us are torn between spending time only on our own selves, and service to others, such as our children and families, our jobs and organizations. Using time efficiently and effectively is a balancing act, especially when you have six errands to run and only one hour to get them finished. So we rush, rush, rush, barely pausing and rarely stopping for the brilliant rainbow after a rain or a kind word to a stranger.
Being kind takes practice, time and discipline until it is ingrained, unless you are fortunate enough to be one of those naturally pleasant people, happy under all conditions. For myself, I have to work at it. Being kind entails learning courtesy, niceness, thankfulness, appreciation, and faith; and then applying those qualities with everyone you meet.
From day one, new Baha'is learn that service to humanity brings joy and happiness. To me, service involves asking, "How can I show kindness in this situation?" whether removing a blown trash can from the middle of the road, or opening a door for someone else, or giving a smile and greeting of "Hello! How ya doin' today?" After a while, with practice, kindness becomes second nature.
Most, and I mean 99%, of all people I have ever met, have been kind. I’ve travelled extensively, and no matter where I go people have always extended themselves and been helpful when asked. Most of us are willing to help others, but true kindness means helping before being asked. True kindness involves seeing our humanity in others automatically, rather than seeing fear or foreignness:
When a man turns his face to God he finds sunshine everywhere. All men are his brothers. Let not conventionality cause you to seem cold and unsympathetic when you meet strange people from other countries. Do not look at them as though you suspected them of being evil-doers, thieves and boors. You think it necessary to be very careful, not to expose yourselves to the risk of making acquaintance with such, possibly, undesirable people.
I ask you not to think only of yourselves. Be kind to the strangers, whether come they from Turkey, Japan, Persia, Russia, China or any other country in the world.
Help to make them feel at home; find out where they are staying, ask if you may render them any service; try to make their lives a little happier.
In this way, even if, sometimes, what you at first suspected should be true, still go out of your way to be kind to them -- this kindness will help them to become better.
After all, why should any foreign people be treated as strangers?
This sentiment is even more necessary today, when "getting to know someone" may only be a few scraps of conversation in the supermarket aisle or a quick interaction on the street. Even in those short encounters, kindness can improve everyone’s day. Evincing kindness can help alleviate the pain of poverty, war, injustice, depression, economic woes, crime and other ills. It can, as Abdu’l-Baha suggests, make us all better people.
If you practice kindness, I promise you, you’ll find that it's much easier, more fun and interesting to be nice than it is to be a hardcase. What's your experience been?