By Father Ed Dougherty, M.M.
St. Francis de Sales once said, “A spoonful of honey gets more flies than a barrel full of vinegar.” This take on an old English proverb points to the reality that likable things will naturally be more attractive than those which are harsh or bitter. St. Francis shared this wisdom in order to highlight how to be effective in sharing the truth with others.
Kindness counts in our relationships, especially those with whom we occasionally find ourselves in minor disagreements or who may be hostile to our ideas. The Christopher News Note “Kindness Counts” is a classic that remains as relevant today as it ever was. It opens with a line by famed screenwriter Myles Connolly: “Everybody at one time or another has known such people – strangers, relatives or friends – who have changed the quality of the day for others…The shining quality of goodness radiates from them, from their mere presence. All these, humble and unaware, carry with them the kindness and generosity of their lives. These are the greatest artists; they practice the highest of arts – the art of living, the art of life itself.”
Kindness manifests itself in different ways. When we find people in desperate circumstances, kindness may call for heroic actions of rescue, protection, or advocacy to overcome seemingly impossible odds. We often see this sort of heroism in soldiers, police officers, firemen, and missionaries in various fields. But heroic kindness can manifest itself in small ways as well. We can promote harmony within our families and in the workplace, and we can stay committed to reaching out to people wherever we go. The “Kindness Counts” News Note tells of a man living alone who says, “What a difference it makes when people at Mass treat you like a family member, not someone intruding on their private space.”
One woman recalled how a neighbor cared for her children while she was in the hospital giving birth, and kept an eye on her older kids when she returned from the hospital. “She brought peace into my life at a time when I desperately needed it,” the woman recalled with immense gratitude.
Kindness can make all the difference when it comes to discourse on issues of contention in our society, such as religion and politics. If the goal is to help someone see our point of view, we must consider sharing information at those times when people actually seem open to considering what we have to say. Sometimes just demonstrating the ability to listen to others without offering heated rebuttals can open the door for someone to listen to us at another point down the road.
“Charity begins at home” is a wise old adage pointing to the fact that kindness stems most directly from what we learn in our interactions with family. The very word “kind” comes from the Old English word “cynd,” which means kin or family. This origin makes perfect sense because it is within families and close-knit communities that we cultivate an awareness of how to respond to the needs of others. The struggle to respond to those needs is an ongoing process. The moment we think we’re done having to be sensitive to others’ needs and appreciate where they are coming from is the moment our relationships will begin to degrade. So we should all commit to taking up the cross that true kindness entails. We will see our relationships flourish and the kingdom of God begin to manifest itself wherever we go.
For free copies of the Christopher News Note KINDNESS COUNTS, write: The Christophers, 5 Hanover Square, New York, NY 10004; or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Father Ed Dougherty, M.M., is a member of the board of directors for The Christophers.