November 19, 2014 Leave a comment
Charlie Chaplin once said, “We think too much and feel too little. More than machinery, we need humanity. More than cleverness, we need kindness and gentleness.” I couldn’t agree more.
As I thought about the great deficit of kindness and gentleness in the world, I suddenly landed on the notion of learning from toddlers, from special needs children, and from animals. These three groups have so much to teach us. Toddlers of course, are at the age of flexing their independence and they may at times be quite selfish. But watch what happens when someone is hurt or cries. A toddler will often move over to the hapless victim of misfortune and hug them or try to console them in some way.
The same sort of thing happens with special needs children with conditions like autism. While a child on the spectrum may be trying in so many ways, he can also be extremely empathetic and caring.
There are so many stories of how pets have the ability to sense emotional turmoil in humans, and they console them in ways that only pets can. For example, only recently, my wife and I were dealing with a thorny issue involving our son, and she was stressed and upset. Our wonderful cat, Ernie, hopped up on the couch and sat beside her and placed a paw on her leg, as if to remind her that things would be alright.
As we go through life, we see so many people who are beaten down and suffering. Too often, we pass them by and don’t give them a second thought. Maybe there is nothing that we can do to help them. Maybe their problems are beyond our scope and ability. But that doesn’t mean we can’t care, show kindness and gentleness and even mercy.
Of course, the Bible is replete with calls to kindness and mercy. So many people can quote the beatitudes, but too few apply them. In particular, Matthew 5.7 says, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” Now, this is not to say that we should offer mercy only in order to get it, an investment for an expected greater return. We should be merciful because it is the right thing to do. A consequence of being merciful is that we, too, obtain mercy. What is the difference? The first case cheapens the act to a tit-for-tat game or a business venture. The result of this would be that if we do not attain an acceptable return, we will no longer invest our mercy in that enterprise. The second view entails mercy for its own sake, with nothing tangible expected in return. This is true mercy, and the reward is much greater in the long run.
This concept of kindness and mercy is not a Judeo-Christian only talking point. Far from it. All great religions see the need for harmony among people. The way to achieve that is through kindness, caring, love and mercy. Many people are familiar with the Golden Rule, where Jesus said, “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them….” Sadly, knowledge and action are often far apart. In more recent times, the Dalai Lama said, “Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.” I think Jesus would approve of that message.
As I think about the Random Acts of Kindness movement, I have mixed feelings: on the one hand, any kindness is good. On the other, I believe kindness should in many cases be premeditated and systematic. It should be so until it becomes second nature, even automatic.
Imagine a world where every person looked after each other, lived kindness, not just performed perfunctory actions. That would be a revolution beyond any other, beyond political boundaries, beyond selfish pursuits, and truly into the realm of the divine.
And even if we are “only human,” we can dream of something better. Every achievement begins with a dream, a vision. Maybe it’s time to dream of a better human nature. Maybe then, “you’re only human” would be the highest form of praise, not just an excuse.