Kindness-the unsung virtue

Published 8:22 pm Friday, August 19, 2022

‘It’s chaos.  Be kind.’ That’s a phrase taken from stand-up comedian Patton Oswalt, who first took it from his wife.  She was a crime writer and investigator, which means she had seen and felt so many tragic and chaotic things. Somehow, despite all of the pain to which she had been exposed, she took as her life mantra that phrase, ‘It’s chaos. Be kind.’

Four words, and yet they can change the course of someone’s life.  I’m not trying to be too extravagant or bombastic here.  Kindness is one of those virtues that can disarm even the most antagonistic of people. It’s an unsung virtue, yet it’s so vital to how we as people relate to one another and build a better human community.

All of us are hurting in some way. In ways small and seemingly insignificant, or because of a pain that is bone-crushing in its intensity, every one of us hurts. We bear the scars of a world that doesn’t bend to our will no matter how hard we try.  We can’t prevent the deaths of those we love, and we can’t suddenly solve the problem of world hunger.  The world spins on regardless of how hard we try to make it stand still.

In our hurt, it’s easy to lash out. To desire that others feel as badly as we do.  We know this isn’t productive, but it comes so naturally to us.  We live in a world that celebrates cruelty and judgment. It’s the currency in which we trade.  But it doesn’t have to be this way. ‘It’s chaos. Be kind.’

When we begin to walk through the world assuming the best of people, things begin to look differently. When we practice kindness to ourselves or our friends, we are preparing ourselves to act accordingly even when we are confronted by chaos of the worst magnitude.

Life happens all around us.  Pain happens around us and within us. We must realize and admit to ourselves that the only thing we can truly change is ourselves. We have no power over others, and we certainly have no power over the contingencies and surprises of life.  However, we do have power to make different choices in how we relate to one another in this chaotic world.

Jesus had it right when he told us to love our neighbors as ourselves. He understood that the only way we as human beings can grow and evolve is when we finally learn that everybody is connected, and actions we undertake directly effect the world around us.  How often do you think about the power you have to impact the thoughts and feelings of others? How often do you think about the power you have to use words of kindness and compassion to lift someone out of the mire and clay of the world?

I have a sticker my wife bought me that I placed on my journal.  It says, ‘Be soft. Don’t let the world’s pain make you hate.’ Because we know that everyone of us carries our own pain, our own internal chaos, we should then make the choice to treat people in such a way as to show them hope through kindness.  To help others understand that the chaos of the world doesn’t have to win.  It doesn’t have to dictate the terms of our ordinary lives. Choose kindness, my friends. Choose to love your neighbor as yourself. Choose to make this place a better world than when you came into it. It’s chaos. Be kind.

Chris Adams is the Rector at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Washington.