Kindness seems to be a much talked about, but little used commodity in our society today. We have become so hurried and so busy that we seem to have decided that perhaps kindness would somehow slow us down or take up too much of our time. I miss the days when I knew all my neighbors, if not by name then at least by sight, when I greeted or was greeted by strangers I passed on the street, when I could count on being greeted by a friendly clerk at the market and when I would not even have to think to give a smile in return. Some days it is still a shock to my system, a sort of spiritual slap in the face if you will, to be treated rudely or worse yet, indifferently: as though my very existence is of no consequence. It is at times like this that I am reminded of the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson, who said, “Life is not so short but there is always time enough for courtesy.
A popular bumper sticker in recent years tells us to “practice random acts of kindness,” as if kindness is an occasional act to which we should give no forethought. I’ve always thought this phrase makes kindness sound like some vile, terrorist act, at which we would not want to be caught or convicted of in a court of law. If you were to stand trial today, could you be convicted of kindness?
What is it to be kind? Is it enough to simply overlook another’s rudeness? Sometimes that may be all we can do, but I believe that kindness is much like any other gift of our Heavenly Father. We must work at kindness, just as we work at prayer or scripture study or taking our vitamins. We must practice kindness until it becomes a habit and then, following that, until it becomes a part of our nature.
I am, by nature, a shy person. New social situations and meeting new people face-to-face have never been easy for me. My reticence to speak up and join in has been taken by many as haughtiness or even rudeness, which adds only more difficulty to the task of overcoming the shyness. Since I don’t want to be shy—and even more I don’t want to be thought of as rude or unfriendly—I made a goal for myself of finding a way to overcome my fears. I decided that each Sunday I would sit by a different sister in Relief Society and introduce myself to her. It was partially easy; I knew almost no sisters in my ward, being new; but after a short while I realized that perhaps there were more sisters like me, hesitant to jump in and join the group, so I decided that each week I would seek out a sister new to our ward, sit by her and help her to feel welcome and at home, two things I was seeking for my own self. In some respects it has proved easier than I thought. As soon I as I began befriending new sisters, Heavenly Father began sending a steady stream of new sisters to our ward for me to befriend. So many, in fact, I seem to be unable to keep up. And after I began to be more comfortable with the sisters at church, I found that my newly forming habit of practicing kindness began growing on me. I find myself more easily reaching out to my neighbors, getting more involved in my community and not even waiting for the clerk at the store to smile. In case she is in short supply, I make sure to give her one of my own.
I begin to find myself giving conscious thought to those I already know, wondering what I might do that day or that week to make someone’s day brighter or life easier. “For what do we live if it is not to make life less difficult for each other.” (George Elliot)
With this desire to spread kindness I have realized that I must spread it first to my own family and encourage them to spread it to the world. And with this realization, I have come to learn that kindness cannot be taught as we would teach math or cooking, but instead can only be taught through example. As I share kindness with my children they in turn will be able to share that kindness with others, for kindness is produced by kindnessIn this crazy world where we allow ourselves to be too often consumed with busy-ness, I pray that we may reach out and share our kindness with those around us, that we may let others know that they are not alone and that they are important in the sight of the Lord because they are important in our sight.