Kindness: so simple yet so complicated
“Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves, which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although he existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.”
Despite my small stature and sweet demeanour, my real friends — the ones who know me best — sometimes jokingly refer to me as “heartless”.
I prefer the term “real” myself but there you go. Despite this less than flattering picture I’ve painted of myself, I’ll have you know that even I am sometimes moved.
And one thing that never fails to make me cry? Kindness. There is just something about even the smallest act of kindness that causes me to lose it. Every. Single. Time.
Anyone who knows me at all will know that I watch a lot of movies. And, while I’ll be the first to admit that they can be full of stereotypes, exaggeration and techniques to emotionally manipulate, it must be said that they also often contain many truths about human nature.
The moments that get me every time usually take place in movies portraying overwhelming despair and seemingly unsurpassable problems: war, famine, and cruelty — any situation with a lack of hope.
Why does kindness seem to stand out more alongside these incredibly bleak scenarios? Perhaps it is because kindness brings hope and hope is powerful.
It extends beyond its own border, replacing bitterness, wrath, anger, clamour, slander, and malice.
Reaching out to someone else is does require a choice but, in fiction or reality, it can be surprisingly simple.
Sometimes it may hardly seem worth it. But William James once said, “Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does.”
Where your treasure is …
As a child, I grew up listening to the musical Les Miserables, based on the French novel by Victor Hugo. I didn’t always understand its more adult themes but even in my youth it struck me as deeply moving. As I read the novel recently a particular moment stood out to me.
Jean Valjean, an ex-convict who has become embittered towards the world after its mistreatment of him, has lost all faith in humanity, God and himself. After being refused work because of his status, and with nowhere else to go, a kind old bishop offers him a place to stay and food for the night.
Jean Valjean is confused by this kindness and, in a final act of desperation and defiance; he steals the silver dinnerware and flees.
When the bishop finds out, his reaction is unusual. He says to his shocked maid, “In the first place, was that silver ours?”
She is speechless and he goes on, “I have for a long time detained that silver wrongfully. It belonged to the poor. Who was that man? A poor man, evidently.”
Luke 6:30 says, “Give to everyone who asks you and, if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back.”
I don’t know about you but I would find it a lot harder than the bishop to let go of my possessions, especially not on my own terms. But Luke also goes on to say, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
As far as the bishop knows his valuables are gone forever but it does not bother him, as he trusts in God. Not long after, police arrive with Jean Valjean in tow, saying he claimed the bishop gave him the silver and they disbelieved his story.
The bishop not only backs up Valjean’s story but also gives him some silver candlesticks, instructing him to use them to start a new life, saying, “You no longer belong to evil, but to good. It is your soul that I buy from you; I withdraw it from black thoughts and the spirit of perdition, and I give it to God.”
Luke 6:36-37 says, “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. Do not judge and you will not be judged. Do not condemn and you will not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven.”
The bishop could have performed justice by the world’s standards. The law would condemn Jean Valjean. He would be sent to jail.
But would that have changed him? What does change him is the kindness he experienced. In the musical, he sings, “For I had come to hate this world, this world which had always hated me.”
The judgment and hatred of others served no purpose but to breed more hatred.
The bishop’s actions cause Valjean to wonder, “Is there another way to go?”
He goes on to turn his life around and helps many other people in need in the process.
One act of kindness can be the beginning of a large chain of events. The bishop may never have known what his action accomplished. Nor may you when you help someone who could seem ungrateful at the time.
Judgment and repentance
In the movie The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, a creature named Gollum follows the Fellowship, hoping to steal the ring entrusted to Frodo to destroy.
Frodo and Gandalf are talking one night when Frodo mentions, “It’s a pity Bilbo [his Uncle] didn’t kill him [Gollum] when he had the chance!”
Wise old Gandalf’s response stops Frodo in his tracks. “Pity? It was pity that stayed Bilbo’s hand. Many that live deserve death. Some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them, Frodo?
“Do not be too eager to deal out death in judgment. Even the very wise cannot see all ends. My heart tells me that Gollum has some part to play yet, for good or ill, before this is over. The pity of Bilbo may rule the fate of many.”
Gandalf’s words are very true. What qualifies Frodo to deal out judgment? What qualifies any of us for that matter?
Pity and kindness may not always be deserved but how can we discriminate who truly deserves kindness and who does not? Should we discriminate?
The Bible tells us, “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that.” (Luke 6:32-33)
My Dad once told me that it is God’s kindness that causes us to repent. Law naturally makes people want to rebel, while love brings about transformation. Romans 2:4 says, “Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realising that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance?”
The late Princess Diana used her influence to carry out many good works for charities and is remembered well for it. She once said, “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.”
The idea that our good work may someday be repaid is a nice idea but what can come with it if we are not careful is a sense of entitlement. The religions of Hinduism and Buddhism hold the belief that, “The sum of a person’s actions in this and previous states of existence are viewed as deciding their fate in future existences.”
Basically, “What you give is what you get” or “Karma”.
Yes, the Bible talks about reaping and sowing and we can put this into practice (“Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap” — Galatians 6:7).
But should we really give only in expectation of receiving something in return?
French moralist Joseph Joubert summed it up nicely when he said, “A part of kindness consists in loving people more than they deserve.”
As the oldest of three, I’d like to think I have instilled in me a pretty strong sense of “right and wrong”; that is, my younger siblings receiving better Christmas presents than I did at their age: wrong, wrong, wrong! I’m also very good at knowing (and pointing out) when people don’t deserve something.
There may be a lot of people in your life you think don’t deserve a second chance (and, let’s be honest, they probably don’t) but if my friends or family didn’t love me when I least deserved it, and hadn’t dealt out a seemingly infinite number of second chances, I don’t know where I would be today.
If, like me, you often find it difficult to love many of your annoying fellow human beings (and by annoying I mean sometimes you want to murder them) remember 1 John 3:19 — “We love because he first loved us.” And he loves us still, despite our shortcomings.
Ephesians 4: “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamour and slander be put away from you, with all malice, and be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”
My mother, a woman who always says it like it is, once told me, “You may need to love your neighbour but you don’t have to like him.” It goes to show how similar we are in that this has stayed with me for a very long time.
My father and sister are blessed with a sweet spirit and seemingly endless patience but we are not. Regardless, even we can still be stewards of grace and love if we keep our eyes on the bigger picture: “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’”(Matthew 25:40)
There’s no doubt about it. Kindness is a great deal more romantic in my movies. And the characters in them seem to figure it out better than I can.
In real life, it’s far from black and white. I was once told, “Start by acting the way you wish to become.”
Acting … Now, that I can do.
Well, whatever works, right?