Call it mawkish or maudlin or mushy. Call it by whatever name you feel compelled to use to dismiss it. But give compassion its due. Consider the power of kindness to protect people from stepping over that invisible line beyond which there is no return. Simply by demonstrating that someone cares, an act of kindness can prevent a painful life from ending early. And acts of kindness can guide that painful life toward a path more peaceful and fulfilling. But kindness is not just about saving lives. It is about saving the humanity in our lives.

This topic is on my mind this morning as a result of a bit of introspection—recalling my responses to real or imagined slights I endured from strangers. My thoughts were not about how those strangers should have been kinder to me; they probably did not even realize I was upset with their behaviors (which, incidentally, were not necessarily acts of unkindness but, rather, were acts of people being people). My thoughts were about how unnecessarily upset I was with minor inconveniences—and how my reactions did not consider for an instant what those people might be going through in their lives. For example: someone ahead of me may have allowed his car to remain motionless for longer than I thought necessary after the stoplight turned green. I did not consider that the person might be distracted because he just lost his job or his child or his spouse. Simply allowing him that distraction, rather than honking my horn and shaking my fist, would have been an act of kindness.  Refraining from showing my impatience probably would not save the driver’s life; but it might have saved my humanity from continuing to wither.

There is no need for temples; no need for complicated philosophy. Our own brain, our own heart is our temple; my philosophy is kindness.

~ The Dalai Lama

I have witnessed responses to acts of kindness that seemed out of proportion to the acts themselves. Like someone breaking into sobs and tears when a stranger chases after them, calling out, “Excuse me, this pocketbook fell out of your purse!” I can imagine the overly-appreciative beneficiary of the kind stranger’s action might have been going through an emotionally wrenching experience. A simple act of kindness might have brought that person back from a  dangerous precipice, hence the unexpectedly emotional response. Or, perhaps the person was so unused to being the recipient of acts of kindness that a very simple act of kindness triggered what I, and others like me, might have thought an over-reaction.  I’ve seen dozens—more likely, hundreds—of “over-reactions” to simple acts of kindness like that. As moving as those acts and those reactions might have been, I have to wonder about how many other situations there must have been in which kindness did not play a part. How many people might not have been shown the humanity in others, and what might have been the results of the absence of kindness? And what of those who let the opportunity to be kind pass by? How much colder and harder and angrier did they become?

It is easy to sit at my desk early in the morning and write about the power of kindness. But it is much more challenging to weave kindness into my psyche with enough staying power to ensure that it replaces either indifference or hostility. No matter how much I want always to be kind, keeping my indifference or hostility at bay sometimes is a Herculean task I do not seem to have the capacity to accomplish. Just recognizing the desire to be kind, though, may help. And recalling the dozens or hundreds of times I have been the recipient of kindness when, instead, I could have been the recipient of indifference or hostility may do the trick. Both, I hope, will conspire to make me a better person. Some day, maybe today, my kindness may be needed to help a stranger survive emotionally devastating circumstances about which I know nothing and never will.


Yesterday, I discovered that the paint can I had been using was mislabeled at the paint store. The color got mixed up with another color we had picked for another room. Fortunately, we like the color I applied to the walls so far. (The colors are very similar shades of green.) Unfortunately, we do not have any more paint of that color to finish the job. That means we’ll need to see about getting the paint store to give us another gallon of the paint I’ve been using, as well as a gallon of the paint I thought I had been using (for another room). I will force kindness to replace hostility in my mind, regardless of whether I am the one to go to the paint store or not. The fact that we like the “wrong” color quite a lot (more, I think, than had I painted the room with the intended color) helps.


My aching muscles may force me to call this Sunday, today, a day of rest.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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One Response to Kindness

  1. Meg+Koziar says:

    I was happy to notice you zoomed in today – hope that means you were getting some rest. Meg

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