“You can only understand people if you feel them within yourself.” -John Steinbeck
I saw a man in Fayetteville pumping gas a row away from me. He was about to fill the tank of his newer sedan when an older black man approached. I overheard him asking the driver as he replaced the nozzle if he could spare enough for a burger as he hadn’t eaten since yesterday.
The driver, who was white, said he had no cash, got back behind the wheel and drove off as the rejected man slowly made his way back to a nearby bench where he had previously been seated.
A few more minutes and my tank was full. I was backing up to leave when I witnessed a remarkable act of kindness.
The guy who had left without even a parting look had returned. He slowly approached the bench where the hungry man sat with his head bowed. He rolled down the passenger side window and handed the startled beggar a bag full of food he had bought from the fast food stand just 100 yards away.
“Thank you very much, sir,” the grateful man replied. “I can definitely use it!” »
Hardly the front page news today. Yet there is nothing more relevant in our lives today than such unexpected acts of kindness between strangers from very different worlds, as I had just witnessed.
Imagine what must have passed through the heart and mind of the man who returned. He was off to face his own challenges of the day, but something inside made him stop and search for food for a hungry stranger he knew he would never see again.
Centered in compassion, his act was an indication of what sharing our brief lives side by side could and should be like in a civilized society that supposedly values empathy and kindness.
This event at a Harp’s Store three years ago provides a springboard for my talk today about the effects and benefits of kindness in all of our lives.
I can’t imagine if we reach the point where kindness has evaporated from our lives to leave us only concerned with ourselves. And yet, for me, sadly enough, I feel like this is where we’ve been headed for some time. Self-absorption runs rampant.
Kindness, a key moral virtue, is a form of spiritual adhesive that binds us together while making us feel that our presence here together matters.
By giving rather than taking, we realize the importance to ourselves of being willing to recognize the inherent value of others.
There has been much writing down the ages on this human quality. I read the other day that the simple act of being kind to others can improve our lives in several specific ways.
It generally makes us happier when we treat others with kindness. Being kind generates emotional warmth and naturally benefits the human heart. It slows the aging process and improves relationships, and the kindness we show to others is contagious.
We’ve seen it on crowded roads when, after waiting in a long queue hoping to sink into the flow and are about to give up, a driver waves us past them.
All of a sudden, our frustration and anger give way to gratitude for their kindness. And chances are that the next time we find ourselves in a position to reciprocate, we will.
It’s the same if someone with a basket full of groceries in the checkout line waves at me with my three items in front of them. At the next opportunity, I will do the same.
In the hit Broadway phenomenon “Les Miserables,” a single act of kindness from the Bishop to escaped prisoner Jean Valjean transforms his bitter life into one dedicated to public service and helping others.
Kindness is also a proven way to connect with others and make new friends and acquaintances.
Those who receive kindness feel important, while being a giver allows us to contribute positively to something outside of ourselves. In both cases, kindness confirms our existence and our relationship with each other in a positive way.
Every act of kindness you and I do quietly changes how we see ourselves and others, and how others see us. As our kindness positively affects others, we also tend to feel more compassionate, confident, and helpful, as well as being more grateful and optimistic overall.
Aesop aptly wrote, “No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.” Albert Schweitzer wrote, “Constant kindness can accomplish much. Like the sun melting ice, kindness evaporates misunderstanding, distrust, and hostility.”
“A single act of kindness,” said theologian Frederick William Faber, “throws down roots in all directions, and the roots sprout and make new trees.”
The Random Acts of Kindness Foundation website attributes several quotes to “RAKtivist” (Random Acts of Kindness Activist): “Kindness gives hope to those who think they are alone in the world.” https://www.arkansasonline.com/news/2022/oct/08/a-need-for-kindness/ “Kindness is seeing the best in others when they cannot see it in themselves .”https://www.arkansasonline.com/news/2022/oct/08 /a-need-for-kindness/”Kindness is something anyone can give without losing anything themselves.”https: //www.arkansasonline.com/news/2022/oct/08/a-need-for-kindness/”Kindness is not what you do, it’s who you are.”
Voices editor Brenda Looper, at my request, excerpted some of my timeless columns published since 2001 during my painfully slow recovery from radiation and chemotherapy. It just so happens that last Tuesday she picked one from 2013 on the benefit of paying for it with thoughtful deeds, which I’d call a bit of a sibling to today’s offering.
Reader Jerry Jones responded to the pay-per-view column with a relevant story that fits into today’s point.
“Read your column today, which was great, and I wanted to share an experience I had,” he wrote. “The other day, while shopping at Walmart, a lady was paying and was clearly having trouble with her credit card. She was a lady who you could tell she had some means, but her card didn’t wasn’t erased. It wasn’t his fault.
“After several attempts, I pulled out my card to pay for her groceries and said ‘see if my card will work’. Just before I inserted my card, a Walmart employee said she could get her card, and she did.
“Still, the lady looked at me, amazed that a stranger was coming to pay her grocery bill. It’s not that I did anything big, but the look on her face told a thousand stories.
“In my opinion, it gives people hope that there are more good people than bad people in the world. Now, to quote you: ‘Go out into the world and treat people the way you want to be treated. “”
As with Jerry, I say why can’t we all agree in the short time we have left on this Earth to commit to doing our best to be kinder to others, be they friends , family members or total strangers?
It really isn’t that hard, and we’ll all be much better off as good, decent human beings. From my perspective, most of the time all that’s required is a kind, sincere compliment or a simple act that, at its heart, reassures others of their own worth.
Now go out into the world and treat everyone you meet exactly as you would like them to treat you.
Mike Masterson is a longtime Arkansas journalist, served as editor of three Arkansas daily newspapers, and directed the Ohio State University’s Masters of Journalism program. Email him at [email protected]