Kindness – A Choice We Make

I had a catch up with a friend the other day who reads my blog, and who complained they were getting far too long.  So here a shorter one for you all…

I teach first year university students human biology, and, like so many universities, we ask the students to fill in a survey telling us how they felt about the labs and what constructive feedback could they give, either positive or negative.  It is always a bit awkward, because they are really judging the tutor’s performance, whether they teach well, interact well with the students, along with the content and structure of the labs themselves, which are designed by the coordinators of the course.

I try to keep it low key, and suggest they stick to assessing my teaching, rather than commenting on my clothes or the colour of my shoes…

When I got them back, after the exam, I was pleased to see that no one had commented on my shoes, other than one who jokingly said they were great, and they were happy with my style and care and teaching ability. Phew!

But what really spoke to me, and maybe more than anything made me feel warm and toasty inside, is that a number of them said I was kind.  I was quite taken aback, as they don’t have to write anything.

Yet what do they mean by kind?  It is defined in the dictionary as a behaviour marked by ethical characteristics, a pleasant disposition, and a concern for others. I think maybe that means I respected them, listened to them, helped them as best I could, and maybe even had a joke with them, because it is a great subject and great unit to teach. Or at least I tried too!

Kindness, how I love to be called kind, because maybe I am doing something that makes a difference to someone else.

Yet kindness is something we have to work at, I have to work at, because too often life and all its troubles and tribulations get in the way.  It is easy to let the little annoyances and big problems we are faced with affect our view of the world and of others. We can become more judgemental, dismissive, sarcastic and rude than we even realise, certainly not very kind. Ouch! The world suddenly becomes so black and white that we see people as being either with us or against us, rather than acknowledging that we are all on the same page, despite our differences. It is a paradox of ourselves which we must live with and deal with.

For it’s a paradox of being human.

We know that as humans we can love fully and hate terribly, we can forgive one another but are also capable of vengeance, and we can feel anger and strike out either with words or actions, then regret what we have done to others.  We can seek justice for the poor, then live like kings or we can want to protect the planet then behave as though our resources are limitless. We can act in noble, selfless ways, then retreat to selfish and individual ways.   All of us, each one of us is capable through circumstance or upbringing or from some unknown urge to do things we think we would never do.

This is who we are. But we have a choice. To live in freedom or fear. To tip the balance always towards goodness. To see ourselves together, as brothers and sisters.

To be kind. To look after the other, think of the other, and protect the other.

But how do we keep choosing the path of kindness. For it’s a challenge! Even in teaching.

Can religion help?  Maybe, but certainly not in its judgemental, saved/unsaved version.  Can the wise sages and prophets of our tradition help, who speak of a universal God, I think so.  Can the life and teachings of Jesus help, definitely!

Rob Bell, one of my favourite contemporary writers says it better than I can,

“All down the centuries, religion has drawn out of men and women goodness and love and passion for caring and responding to others they didn’t know was within them.   All down the centuries, religion has inspired the greatest and the best that is in people and despite all the misdeeds of religion, cumulatively I believe the world is a better place.   Micah and his simple principles, and, even more, Jesus and his blessings and freedoms, have been central to the growth of goodness and transformation for those who are Christian.”

From the prophet Micah –

“He has shown all you people what is good.  And what does the Lord require of you?  To act justly and to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God”.

And from Jesus –

“Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

But if you don’t think too much of Christianity, it is also beautifully said by Mary Oliver, in her poem, “In the Storm”.

Some black ducks
were shrugged up
on the shore.
It was snowing

hard, from the east,
and the sea
was in disorder.
Then some sanderlings,

five inches long
with beaks like wire,
flew in,
snowflakes on their backs,

and settled
in a row
behind the ducks—
whose backs were also

covered with snow—
so close
they were all but touching,
they were all but under

the roof of the ducks’ tails,
so the wind, pretty much,
blew over them.
They stayed that way, motionless,

for maybe an hour,
then the sanderlings,
each a handful of feathers,
shifted, and were blown away

out over the water,
which was still raging.
But, somehow,
they came back

and again the ducks,
like a feathered hedge,
let them
stoop there, and live.

If someone you didn’t know
told you this,
as I am telling you this,
would you believe it?

Belief isn’t always easy.
But this much I have learned,
if not enough else—
to live with my eyes open.

I know what everyone wants
is a miracle.
This wasn’t a miracle.
Unless, of course, kindness—

as now and again
some rare person has suggested—
is a miracle.
As surely it is.

Oh well, I tried to make it shorter, perhaps next time!

Karen

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