How good are we at forgiving, rebuking, saying sorry and the like? Let’s reflect together in this new series.
You’ve seen the video clips. A weary woman selling flowers at the subway approached by a young man who buys a bouquet – and presents it to her. A man sitting on the street is given new clothes by a passerby, causing tears to well up because he has been seen.
We love watching random acts of kindness, even when we know they are staged virtue signals. We drink up ads based on kindness – like the one of the market stall owner who ignores his daughter’s rebuke and sends soup and medicine home with a boy desperate to help his mother.
When we see the stall owner in hospital years later with his daughter, unable to pay the bill, we weep to see a doctor deciding to give his services for free – of course, this doctor was once the boy who got the free soup and medicine. The karma of kindness at its best.
The idea of kindness is captivating in our culture. One of the most memorable quotes from this year’s Oscar-winning Everything Everywhere All at Once is spoken by the ever-cheerful Waymond Wang. In the midst of confusion and chaos, his soft voice rings with emotional clarity. "The only thing I do know is that we have to be kind. Please, be kind. Especially when we don’t know what’s going on."
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Pleas for kindness coming from outside the Christian faith should not surprise us. The golden rule, displayed in every religion, is an example of how people are designed by God to relate to each other. Do to others as you would want them to do to you. For a culture in perpetual conflict, the idea of kindness is more than captivating. It is an escape from chaos. A vision of a better world.
But no one offers greater clarity about kindness than Jesus. He turns an idea into a possibility, extending kindness beyond altruism to self-sacrifice. Jesus doesn’t just talk about what it looks like to be kind – He manifests it. What does His example teach us?
• Remember everyone has a story.
We can be kind when we realize the person who snarled at us in the café may be going through cancer treatments or may have just lost a loved one. Everybody has a story before their life encounters ours, and many are bearing pain. It’s easier to be kind when we realize most people aren’t trying to make us angry – they are carrying a burden.
• Just do something.
We all have moments of wanting to help someone and offering, "Let me know if there’s anything I can do." They won’t. Starting with, "How can I help?" works much better. The question then is not whether you will or won’t act, but how. I have been most blessed in my life when someone has simply seen a need and met it, as simple as a colleague sending a cheese bun from their own lunch to my office when I had an extra load and no time to eat.
• Forget karma.
We don’t act kindly for it to come back around to us. We act kindly with no virtue signalling (no trumpets) and no expectation of any reward. We perform for an audience of One.
• Resist the rage.
In our culture rage is stoked and harnessed to drive publicity. When we respond to something that enrages us, we allow ourselves to be pawns in a sea of anger and division. And society bears the consequences. We become irritable and angry, and kindness disappears. Jesus’ opponents often tried to trap Him, and though He spoke firmly to them He never stooped to their level.
• Love the least loveable.
For the Christian, kindness isn’t something to muster out of nowhere. It’s not making the most of our best human instincts – though it certainly shouldn’t be less. Jesus showed kindness to outcasts, even those who chose not to follow Him, such as the rich young ruler. Jesus could have raked him over the coals of truth, but Jesus looked at him and loved him, and let him make his choice and go his way.
Jesus explained that even as groups and nations, we can be kind. We can offer a drink of cold water to the poor, the marginalized, the outcast and the prisoner. The least of these.
In your mind who are the least? Who are the political opponents you find hard to look at, let alone love? Who do you despise? When we extend kindness to even these, we do it for Christ Himself.
Anna Robbins is president of Acadia Divinity College in Wolfville, N.S. For further reading she recommends Good and Beautiful and Kind: Becoming Whole in a Fractured World by Rich Villodas (Waterbrook, 2022).