Kindness Revival Needed
Thirty-five years ago, American writer and social activist, Anne Herbert wrote the instantly popular phrase "practice random kindness and senseless acts of beauty" on a place mat in Sausolito, California, USA. Ten years later, her book, Random Acts of Kindness, was published and a movement begun. Kindness became the leading virtue of the day for many. Bumper stickers proclaimed the revival and quietly, neighbors, colleagues, friends, and strangers sought ways to do a mitzvah, a good deed, for a fellow creature.
Fast forward to 2017. American news and social media provide ample examples of the decline of kindness in our country. On a street corner, an airplane, a playground, a front porch, our phone cameras capture the many faces of insensitivity, rudeness, meanness, cruelty, and hate. We thought we'd seen it all until the next day arrived, and another cold-hearted scene popped onto our Facebook page or newspaper. Kindness seems far away and losing the battle to meanness.
Kindness. The word evokes simplicity, wholesomeness, goodness, positive regard, and vulnerability; girl scouts, grandmothers, and the boy next door; Jesus, Buddha, and Pope Francis. I grew up in parochial schools, learning that kindness was essential to human relationships. I also have a personality type that urges me to reach out with empathy and care. I admit to days when I turn my eyes away from the harshness. I have that luxury. Mostly, I can't take my eyes off the world.
Yet, it took me sixty years to name my father's cruelty. So hard to say that he was intentionally unkind and mean to my mother and we children. That mental illness alone wasn't the cause of his bad behavior. I get teary now when I see a kindness done, especially when a man is kind to a woman. A hand on a shoulder, a small task done, an appreciative word take so little time and effort.
I'm now working and listening with a dying congregation. On Sundays, twenty-five people gather in a sanctuary built for three hundred. Many are in their nineties and have known each other since childhood. In relationships almost a century old, individuals can be cranky and petty, aching and tired, but they attend to one another. Like monkey mothers grooming their children, these mostly-women members take care of each other. Not in the heavy-lifting manner of cooking, cleaning, or bringing groceries, but kindness in subtle and simple ways.
Dois, ninety-two, doesn't take flack from anyone. Initially, I was intimidated by her curmudgeonly pronouncements about how things should be done around here. When I got to know her better, she told me that macular degeneration ended her driving days. Since she can't get around like she used to, Doris makes phone calls. She makes almost a hundred calls a month to church members, friends, and family. She needs to know that everyone in her flock is okay.
Kindness. It can take so little time and effort. I think a revival is due any day now.
Doris, 92 and Bernis, 96
Barb McRae is a Presbyterian minister who has served churches in the Presbytery of Detroit, Michigan, USA, for twenty years. As a certified spiritual director, she listens for God's voice with individuals, small groups, and congregations. She has heard wisdom from all ages but finds that preschoolers and nonagenarians are often the most free in claiming and speaking their truths. Barb lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan with her husband, teenage daughter, and two cats.