The famous American novelist, Henry James, once gave this advice to his young nephew, Billy: “There are three things that are important in human life. The first is to be kind. The second is to be kind. The third is to be kind.”

We are living in hard times: economic news has been, and remains, grim; we have soldiers in harm’s way in Iraq and Afghanistan; and we see alarming instability in places like North Korea. And, there are more personal difficulties, too: unsettling diagnoses, unexpected crises, and unyielding problems. Even if we are in a season of relative calm, we face daily challenges. One leadership guru says we all have 100 problems a day. Those problems might be small or big, and the total might not be exactly 100, of course. “100 problems a day” is his way of saying that, even when things are good, there are issues and complexities that tax our minds, hearts, and bodies.

In hard times, the temptation is to become harsh: tough on ourselves and on other people. The wise and better thing, of course, is to cultivate compassion and tenderness, to give and receive support; and to offer and open ourselves to encouragement.

Harshness can’t help us; only kindness can.

“Be compassionate,” Jesus said, “as God is compassionate.”