Near the end of my morning walk, I passed two men who were ambling in the opposite direction and having a lively conversation with each other. The street was busy and noisy, but I heard one phrase: “Yeah, he was so unusually kind to me that it made me feel kind of weird.”
I have no idea, of course, who it was that was unusually kind to this man. Was it his doctor who reported on difficult test results and did so compassionately? His boss who conducted a challenging 6-month performance review but did it constructively? A neighbor who helped him clean-up debris from a fallen tree? A stranger who stopped beside the highway to help him with a flat tire? I’ll never know.
I’ve been pondering, though, how it was kindness that made him feel weird. Has graciousness ever unsettled you or respectfulness made you uncomfortable? It has happened to me.
I think that, sometimes, we feel or fear that we don’t deserve the goodness others show toward us, especially if they do so while telling us something difficult or challenging. Or, we’re wary if we can’t figure-out what seems to us to be a legitimate motive for others’ helpfulness, as in those times when complete strangers inconvenience themselves for our sakes.
Unfortunately, though, kindness often makes us feel weird simply because it is rare enough that we hardly expect it.
I passed that fellow on the street less than twelve hours after switching-off last night’s second Republican presidential candidates’ debate. In the Reagan Library, arrayed in a slightly curved line in front of a decommissioned Air Force One, eleven candidates spent three hours’ doing everything but being unusually kind. It could have been, by the way, a Democratic candidates’ debate, and I don’t think the level of kindness would have been higher. Attacking one’s political opponents is one of the few remaining marks of bipartisanship; both sides—all sides—do it.
I’m not naïve about politics; there has always been a dimension of expedient ruthlessness to it. It’s not for the faint of heart or the thin-skinned or the reticent. Politics are part of nearly every dimension of life, too, not just of campaigns for public office or of the functioning (or malfunctioning) of government.
These days, I find I am not able to shrug-off, as once I could, the inevitable rough-and-tumble of “politics” in whatever arena and at whatever level. I know that, in the give-and-take, hurry and flurry, win-and-lose, succeed-and-fail of everyday life, we’re going to bump into each other and hurt each other, sometimes accidentally and sometimes strategically. I know.
I’m living with a keen awareness, though, of how short life is at the longest. For reasons which I both understand and which mystify me, I am tuned-in to the pain we all carry, some of it hidden even from ourselves. I know, from my own experience, how much we crave kindness, need graciousness, and long for compassion—even if it makes us feel “weird” when we experience it.
I resonate more and more with these words of Henri-Frederic Amiel: “Life is short and we have never too much time for gladdening the hearts of those who are traveling the dark journey with us. Oh, be swift to love, make haste to be kind!”