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Kindness

Posted by Roberta Grimes • November 27, 2021 • 26 Comments
Human Nature, The Teachings of Jesus

“Three things in human life are important.
The first is to be kind.
The second is to be kind.
And the third is to be kind.”
– Henry James, novelist (1843-1916)

Kindness seems to most of us to be the weak sister in our pantheon of virtues. Love. Forgiveness. Truth. Wisdom. Justice. Mercy. And, um… kindness? And so I also thought it was. Kindness seemed to be little more than an optional nicety of social behavior, a way to grease the wheels of relationships and add some pleasantness to our days. I assumed the kindest people must be wealthy folks throwing off their excess dollars; or else they were elderly ladies, knitting socks for the poor and feeding stray cats.

Then this week I witnessed the most stunning act of kindness I have seen in my life. You may be aware that I am an attorney who advises closely-held businesses, some of which have been part of my life for decades. I love what I do and the people so much that I think it’s likely that I never will retire! So a woman in her forties came to me with a very vexing problem. She had invested a quarter of a million dollars in loans to a friend’s business because she believed in his products, never realizing that he was someone who had great ideas but little business sense. Other people had made the same mistake, and by the time she raised this issue to me the business owner was out of options and facing bankruptcy. She was angry, distracted, feeling used and betrayed, and trying to find a way to get some of her money back so she could move on with her life.

Over forty years of working with the owners of more than five hundred businesses, I have learned a thing or two about business realities. When I investigated this situation, it was obvious that the business’s problems were all the result of an inexperienced owner’s rookie mistakes; and sadly, it was beyond repair. It needed a cash infusion right away, and no one was going to lend it more money. My client was the biggest lender. Her best option seemed to me to be just to foreclose on its assets, pay some debts that were senior to hers, and shut it down. And she was angry enough to do that! She didn’t start out wealthy, but over twenty years of working in tech she had managed to save close to a million dollars. And now she was about to lose a quarter of her whole net worth.

We talked it through. She made her decision. She had the power and the right to put a dying business out of its misery while it still possessed some saleable assets, and she set off last Tuesday morning to personally deliver a notice that she already had told the owner was coming.

I didn’t learn until the end of that day what had happened. Her business-inept friend had been somewhat distraught, but I had prepared her to deal with that. She was planning to give him some personal help, and he had options. He was going to be fine. What she hadn’t expected had been the amazing loyalty of employees who in booming Austin very likely could have found better jobs within days. I’m not privy to how the details went down, but instead of giving a crippled business the kill-shot that might have earned her back perhaps a third of what she had lent, my client had decided by the time she called me not only to forgive every cent of her loan, but also to pay off the rest of the debt, to the tune of another quarter of a million dollars. Not so much for the owner’s sake, but for the sake of employees she barely knew who loved the owner and believed in his dream, she had decided to sign away half of her savings so she could give that business a new beginning. Perhaps even more surprisingly, in the few days since she made that decision she has become ever more at peace with it.

My first phone reaction to her news was shock. To which her immediate response was, “It’s just paper.”

“It’s just paper.” What is important is people! And she earned that paper once. She figures she can earn it again, but unless she steps up right away there are a dozen people who have invested five years of their lives in a dream that is about to die.

Until now, I have never thought much about kindness. I did write about it two years ago, and that post is even more relevant now so please read it as a grounding for our discussion of my client’s gift.  And we ought to talk about that gift! She didn’t ask for stock or a contingent note, just in case the business might take off. No credit on the website. And no credit here, either: when I told her I wanted to write about this, she insisted that I change identifying details. For businesses to fail is a fact of life. More than half of them fail within their first five years. So, why did she save this one? And why was she willing to do it at such a great cost to herself?

Her act feels to me to be something like choosing to adopt a damaged child. You’ve got a beautiful family and a wonderful life! Why complicate and impair your life forevermore? I recall years ago reading about a family that had adopted a child who had been deprived of oxygen at birth, and had been abandoned by her birth-parents while she was still in neonatal intensive care. A couple with two children in the primary grades had read about that baby when she was two years old, by which time she was responsive and becoming verbal although she was blind and nearly quadriplegic. The four of them had talked about it as a family. They had visited her in the facility where she lived. And they had decided together to adopt her. When the reporter telling their story a few years later had asked the mother why she had burdened her family this way for this child when there are so many other damaged children in care, the mother had said, ”This one we can save.”

“This one we can save.”  I think that expresses my client’s impulse as well. We can’t heal the world! But we each can find something kind to do that otherwise will never be done.

And the very thought that anyone might give my client credit for her gift seems to horrify her. She doesn’t want to be thanked. Her attitude puts me in mind of someone who died more than a hundred years ago.

Jesus says, “Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven. So when you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honored by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving will be in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you” (MT 6:3-4). And a woman who died at least a century ago really took His advice to heart. Someone who had recently died and was communicating with his family through a deep-trance medium just after the turn of the twentieth century told them that he had just come from the biggest parade that any of his friends there had ever seen. It seemed that a woman newly arrived in the afterlife had taken Jesus at His literal word, and she had made a point of doing one anonymous kind thing for someone every day of her whole adult life. And if her kindness was discovered, then it didn’t count and she would quickly figure out and do something else. Parades are a big thing in the afterlife when someone arrives whose life has been well-lived, and apparently when this woman got home she was given a Macy’s-quality parade so impressive that it made it into a dusty old book that I then read in the seventies.

Jesus also said, “And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful(LK 6:34-36).

I think that many of us read that passage with two simultaneous thoughts. Of course, we hope on a theoretical level that in a pinch we really would lend while expecting nothing in return. Especially if we think Jesus might be watching! But at the same time, we see even making any kind of loan that we expect will be repaid in full to be a pretty big kindness. Just outright giving the money seems to be an unreasonable bridge too far.

But I guess my attitude on that has changed, now that I actually have seen it done. How little fuss she makes about this! She reminds me more and more of the family that found room in their hearts for a damaged child. Kindness is not a showy virtue. Instead, it’s a way of looking at someone else’s problem and really seeing it, and feeling sufficient compassion to then look within our hearts to see whether that problem might be one that we can solve.

And in the past few days I have been unexpectedly seeing kindnesses everywhere. A friend whose parents have recently died and left one aunt as the last in his family of her generation decided last weekend on impulse to spend an afternoon with her and take her out to dinner. Someone with a small plane flew to pick up someone’s lost dog that turned up three states away. A teenager with a friend whose father died last year has been working with her friend to earn money so they can give her two younger siblings their usual gifts from Santa. There is so much kindness now, all around! Is it possible that it always has been going on, and I just never noticed it?

And speaking of kindness, I have just begun a ten-day business trip, so for the next two weeks I will have no time for blogging. But I’ll try! Maybe poetry? Maybe recipes? Who knows? But I’ll write something. And whatever it might turn out to be, I hope that as you read it, you will be kind.

“We become great on the backs of those who have loved us into being,
through small, simple acts of everyday kindness.”

– Kute Blackson, author of The Magic of Surrender – Finding the Courage to Let Go (2021)

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26 thoughts on “Kindness

  1. Roberta, thanks for the many examples of kindness that you presented here, especially the woman who forgave her failing businesses partner and instead of foreclosing, gave him another fusion of money to keep the employees working. Yes, I would say that she definitely will have that parade when it’s her time to cross over!!

    1. Hello my dear David! Isn’t it wonderful the way we can learn so much from other people? I hear often now from people who say I have helped them, and now I can identify with how they feel because that woman has helped me so much! I think I will never again see the world quite as I did before, thanks to her. We are here to grow, and our best route to growth by far is the lives and the insights of others.

  2. Dear Roberta,

    That was a wonderful perspective you shared here about kindness, and so appropriate for the Christmas season. I think that the word “kindness” cloaks its inner meaning. which is really love directed towards the needs of another whose action by its nature is unheralded, without any audience clapping or drum rolled announcement, Just at its core quiet love. I good life consists of doing kindnesses all along life’s journey, many just so tiny as smiling at the forlorn to give them cheer. Our true reward is in the doing itself, not in any form of expected payback, just the doing as an expression of the love that is universal in God’s creation.

    1. Oh my dear Jack, so beautifully said! “Just at its core quiet love.” I think we all imagine we might do some dramatic big thing that makes a difference, but what really helps other people every day is the uplift of our our little unexpected kindnesses.

  3. This whole article went straight to my heart and was just exactly what I needed to read. Thank you so very much!

    1. Dear Carolyn, welcome! And thank you for saying that this resonates with you. That is your kindness to me, and I appreciate it so much!

  4. Kindness is not only beneficial to the recipient, but to the person who performs the act of kindness as well. It has always left me with a cozy feeling that’s hard to describe, but it is a feeling of being useful and that your life is not being wasted. This makes it a win/win situation for both parties. This could be the reason why I never met a truly selfish person who was ever really happy. Focusing only on yourself tends to backfire

    1. Oh my dear Lola, quite wonderfully said! Performing little acts of kindness when you can does make you feel useful, and it gives you the sense that your life isn’t being wasted. You’ve made me realize now why it makes me so happy to work so hard: I hear from people who say I have helped them, both in this work and also in my work for business-owning families. Everyone is so appreciative, and it’s like a drug, really. You’ve given me a wonderful insight!

  5. Yes to kindness!! To our loved ones, our neighbors, our pets and all creation, and to strangers who pass our way🙏♥️🙏♥️🙏♥️

    1. Ah, yes! And especially to those who don’t expect it from us. To people who may have no way to do anything for us at all in return. Perhaps if performing little unexpected kindnesses became a fad of sorts, all that good will being generated might begin to change the world!

  6. Dearest Roberta,

    While reading part way through your blog, I thought of a variant of Matt 5: 46-48. See if this works for you. “For if you are kind to those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you act kindly to only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

    1. Hello my dear Cookie! Yes, of course – I often quote that passage from MT 5. The word “kind” or “kindly” doesn’t appear in most modern translations – for example, in the New International Version it’s “And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others?” – because its emphasis is on expanding your favor beyond your own kinship group. But yes, that passage resonates with all of us. Thank you for sharing it!

  7. Hi Roberta. Would kindness be another word for service? Most spiritual traditions seem to emphasize that the path to true joy lies in service to others rather than self. If we’re all part of the same greater Self, with a capital S, then service (or kindness) to others is really the higher form of “selfishness.” This seems to be at the root of what Jesus was getting at in that quote from Luke 6:34-36 that you included above. I’m reminded of a quote from another spiritual teacher, Paramahansa Yogananda, that stuck with me: ‘”The more I see of world tragedies caused by man’s ignorance, the more I realize that even if every street were paved with gold, happiness would not be lasting. Happiness lies in making others happy, in forsaking self-interest to bring joy to others. If each one would do that, then everyone would be happy, and all would be taken care of. This is what Jesus meant when he said: ‘All things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them.’ ”
    Matt 7:12 (Man’s Eternal Quest, page 25)

    1. Dear Scott, yes I would agree that service to others is another form of kindness. But that’s an interesting idea, that we are all part of one greater Self, so service to others is a higher form of selfishness. I think of selfishness as based in the ego – my self vs. each other person’s self – but perhaps as we all better learn to vanquish the small-self, then embracing the greater Self of all-selves will indeed become a thing!

      And yes, I love that teaching from Yogananda. I don’t use it because my particular ministry is to spiritually maturing Christians and they are sometimes put off by quotations from Eastern spiritual traditions. But as you point out, ultimately all true spiritual teachings are the same teaching!

  8. Dearest Roberta,
    I have been increasingly inspired by this wonderful blog entry, by Thomas and your good self, as the week has progressed. I find it sooo beneficial to read and reread it and to let myself become quiet inside; I just sit with it and see what feelings and accompanying thoughts arise.

    So – even the feeling of this blog post is uplifting for my heart. There is a sense of unformed possibilities that take form due to this blog on kindness. Reading the deep and insightful comments of some of our blog family (those of us who choose to write here) enriches this sublime topic. Hence I am doubly inspired.

    Who said that goodness doesn’t spread as easily and quickly as the bad things in this world? Kindness spreads as quietly and surely as ripples on a still pool, even from a single raindrop.

    I am nudged to a single idea:
    Let us be angels to each other.
    🙏🏼🕊👼🏼

    1. Oh my dear Efrem, it stuns me to think that anything we’ve written might have such an effect on you! Thank you! I’m sitting for a moment with that thought. Everything I write comes from elsewhere, and what you have said makes me freshly aware of that, and newly amazed by it.

      The thing about kindness is that it’s contagious. There is one Dunkin’ Donuts in all of Austin and it’s at the far end of the city so I never make it there, but in Massachusetts they are on every street corner so as I am in MA this week I stop daily for a fix of my favorite brew. And sometimes someone in the morning car line will pay the bill of the next car in line. So then that person has the happy surprise of getting a free coffee and donut, and pays the next car’s bill instead. And so on. It’s a bit of the whole future world in microcosm, when everyone is aware of and living by the simple fact that, ultimately, all of us are one.

  9. Quote from above: “Let us be angels to each other.”

    Hi Roberta, hi everybody! Kindness, compassion, generosity…love in action — these are English words with shades of meaning (other languages have similar). They all come down to being mindful that we are all of One Mind. Whether we reach out to other people in a big way, or in small ways, the goal is to finally change so that these aren’t actions that we DO, but what we ARE to each other.

    1. Mike, in just a few well taken words you struck a profound insight– kindnesses are not the superficial appearances of things done, but a reflection of unity with each other and God.

      Roberta, Re paying some one else’s bill in line, that happened for me last year at a grocery store while I was in line to get bagged and pay. To the annoyance of my wife, who always dresses well, although I am kempt, I prefer old worn dungarees and shirts. The kind elderly lady in front of me (funny to call someone else elderly when she was younger then me) contributed $5 to my upcoming bill. I did smile appreciatively, and when my wife was told about that she got a good laugh confirming that I looked like a bum.

  10. Dearest Roberta and everyone,
    We are sharing the heart, the very essence, of kindness with each other even as we read and communicate here. And then we share it with anyone and everyone around us, as and when we are able to do so. Drinking the wine of Love and breaking the bread of Kindness together, are we in fact helping to create Heaven here on earth?

    And the thing that is so great about kindness – the quiet, persistent, unannounced sort – is that it makes the recipient feel valued and worthy as a person. The sudden ray of light that is a simple act of kindness, amid the dim drudgery of a busy and disinterested world, makes the receiving person feel warm, cared for and even loved. It’s the softening of the sullen harshness of being surrounded by (seemingly uncaring) strangers, moving hither and thither every single day. Kindness is the rain that refreshes a tired and dry plant that has all but forgotten what soft, cool, nourishing water feels like.

    And it is so good for people’s feeling of self worth. If someone believes in us to the point of helping us, maybe we can believe we are worthy of it. Maybe the rasping, mean voice inside that tells us we are no good, that we can never amount to anything, is wrong. Perhaps those who called us useless or hopeless or inconsistent when we were children are wrong after all…

    Kindness helps us believe in our own inherent value as a person. It shows us a brighter reality where we do matter to our fellows and we don’t need to feel so alone. A single act of kindness may be the very thing that convinces someone to begin to reach out to others, and come in time to find community, understanding and love.
    🌅🌅🌅

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