February 18, 2005

Faithful Lines / Shirley Vogler Meister

Kindness: consider the need, not the cause

One recent day in an e-mail, a friend shared thoughts that came to her as she carried containers of seed to bird feeders on a frigid day. She claimed—and is correct in believing—that, with all the powerful evil in the world, the seemingly simple acts, such as feeding birds, are really more powerful. They are kindnesses.

Mary Benson wrote: “If someone gives a stranger a warm and sincere smile, who knows what that smile at that moment may mean to that person? If someone lets others into traffic, who knows what that may mean at that moment? Perhaps they are trying to get to someone in need or to a place before someone dies. Maybe they don’t want to miss a joyful event … Maybe they are just tired and want to get home … When a soldier in Iraq plays with a child or shares a candy bar, those are actions that transcend language or culture. When a box of food and clothing is given to a tsunami victim, the smile of thanks that emanates from the person’s soul has no language barrier. It is a powerful act of caring—kindness at work.”

What Mary shared coincided with research I was doing about the “Random Acts of Kindness” campaign that began in the 1990s. Many books and Internet sites deal with the topic. This year’s designated “Kindness Days”—Feb. 14-20—are nearly over, but “World Kindness Days” are Nov. 7-13. Please go to ­ www.actsofkindness.org for information and inspiration about this subject.

I have no doubt that this “Faithful Lines” column is read by good souls whose acts of kindness are so natural that they cannot do otherwise. How can one be a Christian and not follow in the footsteps of Jesus, who was the epitome of kindness on earth?

Other faiths promote kindness, too. The Jewish people have many ­commandments besides the same 10 we follow. They are called mitzvahs—and kindness is primary. The Dalai Lama also claims, “My religion is simple. My religion is kindness.” A basic tenet of Islam—and most other religions throughout the world—is also kindness. Even Greek fabulist Aesop (sixth-century B.C.) wrote: “No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.”

I cannot think of one saint—or those in the process of being declared saints—who did not practice kindness. In fact, I can’t think of anyone amongst my family and friends who are not kind. However, I sometimes fail. Don’t we all fail now and then for the same reason: We are human beings; but we can nurture sensitive hearts.

This German proverb is something else to take to heart: “Kindness looks at the need, not the cause.”

(Shirley Vogler Meister, a member of Christ the King Parish in Indianapolis, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)


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