Kindness is often unspoken. “An eye can threaten like a loaded and leveled gun, or it can insult like hissing or kicking; or, in its altered mood, by beams of kindness, it can make the heart dance for joy,” wrote Ralph Waldo Emerson. At another time, Emerson wrote, “You cannot do a kindness too soon, for you never know how soon it will be too late.” “You may be sorry that you spoke, sorry you stayed or went, sorry you won or lost, sorry so much was spent. But as you go through life, you’ll find—you’re never sorry that you were kind,” said Herbert Prochnow. There’s a French proverb on the wall of my study, “Write injuries in sand, kindnesses in marble.”
Authentic and specific praise is an extension of kindness. Want your praise to last forever? Join and expand StoryCorps’ ambitious Great Thanksgiving Listen. Download the free app founder Dave Isay had made from the million dollar TED prize he won and use it to record your praise of someone who helped you in your life. Isay is asking high schoolers to praise their grandparents or other elders this Thanksgiving yet why not spur everyone you know to give thanks this Thanksgiving?
Whatever we praise we encourage to flourish. Whatever we criticize or “simply” snub goes deeper and lasts longer. Each moment we choose our emotional response. We choose where to put our attention, emotion, and intention. Emotions are energy. So, look to someone’s positive intent, especially when it appears she may have none.
Even though after his death his wife probably disagreed with how he displayed some of his “kindness” on the road, Charles Kuralt wrote, “The everyday kindness of the back roads more than makes up for the acts of greed in the headlines.” “Keep what is worth keeping. And with the breath of kindness blow the rest away,” suggests English novelist, Dinah Mulock Craik. Here’s to making more opportunities to play, laugh, celebrate, and act together in cultivating kindness as life’s genuine “keeper.” Life contains few absolutes, and one of those few is that kindness usually cultivates connection, something we yearn for in a time-pressed, ear-to-the- cell-phone, relationship-diminished culture. After all, the heart can be our strongest muscle if we exercise it regularly. Yet being kind is not a guarantee of safety from hurt — nothing offers that fail-safe comfort.
“Kindness and intelligence don’t always deliver us from the pitfalls and traps: there are always failures of love, of will, of imagination. There is no way to take the danger out of human relationships,” wrote Barbara Grizzuti Harrison in an article for McCall’s magazine way back in 1975. “When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives means the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving much advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a gentle and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares,” wrote Henri Nouwen in Out of Solitude.
Years ago from my college classmate, Alasi Perdanan, I heard a Persian proverb, “With a sweet tongue of kindness, you can drag an elephant by a hair.”“Constant kindness can accomplish much. As the sun makes ice melt, kindness causes misunderstanding, mistrust, and hostility to evaporate,” wrote Albert Schweitzer. “He who sows courtesy reaps friendship, and he who plants kindness gathers love,” wrote the Greek religious leader, Saint Basil.
“Kindness is more important than wisdom, and the recognition of this is the beginning of wisdom,” wrote Theodore Isaac Rubin in One to One. “Life is made up, not of great sacrifices or duties, but of little things, in which smiles and kindness and small obligations win and preserve the heart” said English chemist Humphrey Davy.
“We cannot tell the precise moment when friendship is formed. As in filling a vessel drop by drop, there is at last a drop that makes it run over. So in a series of kindness there is, at last, one which makes the heart run over,” once wrote the Scottish lawyer and biographer, James Boswell.
“We are told that people stay in love because of chemistry, or because they remain intrigued with each other, because of many kindnesses, because of luck . But part of it has got to be forgiveness and gratefulness,” wrote columnist Ellen Goodman.
From an artist’s perspective, ballet dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov once said, “The essence of all art is to have pleasure in giving pleasure. “Willa Cather believed that “When kindness has left people, even for a few moments, we become afraid of them, as if their reason has left them.”
“Tenderness and kindness are not signs of weakness and despair, but manifestations of strength and resolution, “Kahlil Gibran reminds us.
Ultimately, “kindness is in our power, even when fondness is not,” noted Dr. Samuel Johnson. Albeit unevenly, this holiday, I am attempting to practice giving what may be the most nourishing and priceless present and by now you can probably guess what that is.