Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Kindness, part 1

The great Russian writer, Leo Tolstoy, was passing along a street one day when a beggar stopped him. Tolstoy felt through his pockets for a coin, and finding none said with regret, “Please don’t be angry with me, my brother, but I have nothing with me. If I did I would gladly give it to you.” The beggar’s face flamed up in a smile and he said, “You have given me more than I asked for. You have called me brother!”

"Kindness" carries with it the idea of family or lineage; fundamentality in nature or quality; unification through similarity or a relationship by some commonality. Kindness is relational and warm, living. Kindness is useful, and beneficial for more than one share it. Simply put, kindness is a beauty. Kindness that is cold, detached and dead is bribery and cruelty. It is impossible to be kind and think of yourself. Kindness and thinking of self is not kindness at all. There is no kindness in selfishness.

French actress Sarah Bernhardt, touring the States in 1915, “was to be honoured by the American acting profession. They gave her a grand reception at the Metropolitan Opera House, New York, and presented her with a bronze statuette which they had had especially designed and made for the occasion. Unfortunately nobody had thought to pay for the statuette; and its maker, having failed elsewhere, sent the bill—for $350—to Bernhardt. She, understandably, returned the object forthwith.” When the magician Harry Houdini, read about this, he immediately stepped in, paid the bill and saved the day for Bernhardt. “Within a fortnight he had received 3,756 newspaper clippings, all praising his action and linking his name with Bernhardt’s. A newspaper columnist, estimating the advertising at the reading-matter rate of a dollar a line, worked out the sums. Houdini had received publicity worth $56,340 for an outlay of $350.” (Brandon, Ruth. The Life and Many Deaths of Harry Houdini. Random House: New York, 1994)

Houdini’s kindness was self-serving as this was only one instance among many where he sought to exploit a person or situation to his performance advantage (interestingly, that’s how magic works—Houdini liked to use the word “secret”). This particular incident does not end here and the tragedy only deepens, for Sarah Bernhardt had an accident that required one leg to be amputated. She returned to Houdini and asked him to perform another kindness—a miracle to restore her leg. She actually believed his performance could help her, and since he could do the impossible (his many death-defying escapes) and making things disappear, well, he could makes things reappear, couldn’t he? (Brandon)

Kindness performs a strange work to the one who gives it. One must give up himself or herself in the act of kindness for the benefit is for another. There is no control or power, but a sharing out of mutual weakness and dependence. One might suggest that kindness even involves a level of risk or vulnerability, for the beauty of kindness is that when given away, it is usually returned—the operative word is “usually.” When kindness is not returned, the giver often receives instead misunderstanding, criticism, and perhaps even danger; nevertheless, the giver has given. Remember what happened when Paul and Silas performed an act of kindness and delivered the young girl of her demon? They went to jail (Acts 16)!

We often read of the Samaritan who picked up the man met by thieves on the way to Jericho. Though our Lord Jesus Christ does not use the word, the Samaritan (which in that time was a term used with hatred) has been called “good” because of his treatment of his neighbor. He could just as easily be called “The Kind Samaritan” or even “The Merciful Samaritan.” Let us not miss that the parable is given in the context of the question, “what must I do to inherit eternal life” asked by a man who wished to justify himself. Kindness does not win eternal life—that would be bribing God; rather, kindness and loving God wholly are linked.

God created man in His image, so every being of the human race bears the image of God. When we love God with all heart, soul, strength and mind, we demonstrate that love to the image-bearer. This demonstration of love is not worship of the image-bearer, but worship of the Creator by obeying His commands. This is why murder is wrong, for it is lifting the hand (or tongue or heart) against another who is God’s representative on this earth.

Kindness performs a strange work to the one who receives it. William B. McKinley, President of the United States from 1897 to 1901, was a man who understood that principle. During one of his campaigns, a reporter from a newspaper who opposed McKinley followed him constantly and just as persistently misrepresented McKinley’s views. The weather became extremely cold, and even though the reporter didn’t have sufficiently warm clothing, he still followed McKinley. One bitter evening, the president—to—be was riding in his closed carriage, and the young reporter sat shivering on the driver’s seat, outside. McKinley stopped the carriage and invited the reporter to put on his coat and ride with him inside the warm carriage. The young man, astonished, protested that McKinley knew that he was opposition and that he wasn’t going to stop opposing McKinley during the campaign. McKinley knew that, but he wasn’t out to seek revenge. The reporter continued to oppose McKinley in the remaining days of the campaign, but never again did he write anything unfair or unbiased about the future president.

The receiver has a choice as kindness disallows the receiver to continue as he or she once did. As mentioned before, the giver may take a risk and receive variant responses; nevertheless, the kindness is not for the giver.

Popular Posts