Thich Minh Thien’s Reflection on Kindness
Someone gave me a book as a gift entitled, “The Book of Joy” co-authored by his Holiness, the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. One statement in the book attributed to the Archbishop has stayed with me. The statement was, “We grow in kindness when our kindness is tested”. Kindness has been defined and described in different ways over time. The Webster definition states, the quality or state of being kind”. In our Buddhist practices, the term “Metta” or “Loving Kindness” underpins how we relate to each other and the world. It is key in Christian practice as we are admonished to “love thy neighbor as you love yourself”. It the Jewish community, acts of charity and loving kindness are central to the Torah way of life. The Quran has over 200 verses about compassionate living and stresses that righteousness is not in precise observance of rituals but in acts of compassion and kindness. So, no spiritual practice or religion can claim a monopoly on the teaching that embrace kindness. Even in a non-denominational environment life our great Republic; Abraham Lincoln’s vision of working for the healing of a nation, with “malice towards none, with charity for all” led our country out of a war that pitted brother against brother.
Amid a vitriolic environment or situation, or when we are besieged by fear, anger or a sense of self-righteousness, it is possible to become more gracious, kind and gentle as the words of Archbishop Tutu suggests? Can we let our engagement with our neighbors, family friends and acquaintances with whom we disagree, shape us into kinder people. When we are angry or feeling self-righteous or when uncharitable and dehumanizing speech is where we initially go, relying on our mindful practices and Metta can let us look at what is our part in this situation. Simply being reactionary or responding in snarky rhetorical punches might feel good in the moment, but does nothing to bring us closer to a kinder, gentler place. Choosing kindness may open possibilities that insults will surely close. Even if we are met with resistance to our kindness, we can choose to respond with loving kindness and compassion, recognizing that we all are suffering. Being kind, gracious and gentle does not mean we avoid rocking the boat about issues we feel strongly about. We are all connected and called to stand against cruelty and stand up for the oppressed. That is how we rock the boat. Kindness, graciousness and gentleness are a means with which we should struggle for justice. In an address to university graduates, Paul Sanders said, “…what I regret most in life are failures of kindness; those moments when another human being was there, in front of me, suffering, and I respond…sensibly. Reservedly. Mildly.”
That represents moments where we are not mindful of our interconnectedness, where we view a situation from a selfish and/or short-sighted position. We realize that suffering exists and that we individually cannot end the pain, fear, loneliness, anger, etc. that affects so many. But we can respond with kind words, a smile, a recognition of the suffering we see before us, especially when it brings to a mindful place, our own feeling of being uncomfortable. In each situation, we get the opportunity to test our kindness and we grow.