True Kindness

*The following is an extended script of a speech presented at the Fall 2017 District 63 Toastmasters Conference*

 

What was your best subject in School? Now take that and see if you remember someone complimenting you about that subject along the way. I find that most people have a correlation between the two, and it makes me wonder if it’s a case of the chicken or the egg. Which one came first? Would you have been good at that subject anyway, or was your talent cemented because someone showed you kindness. Imagine that! Your future career choice… your life’s trajectory changed simply because someone showed you kindness.

2017 has been a difficult year for everyone. There have been so many tragedies, a number of man-made ones. It’s in times like these that I tend to sit and digest what happened for a while. And what usually lifts me up, makes me feel better, is to pay attention to the good things that happen around the event. The kindness being shown to those hurt.  Or even to get a much broaders perspective on the situation and think about all the bad things that never happened, all the bad guys who never carried through on their act, because someone showed them kindness.

Kindness today is undervalued, underappreciated, underutilized. We all aspire to being kind, but maybe we’re not as much as we think.

A few years ago, my family and I were at a cafe, we were looking for a table when another family walked in. They had a daughter about the age of ours, and she had no hair. Best guess, some kind of cancer or treatment. My parental instincts kicked in when I realized my daughter had noticed this girl, too. Just then I saw her raise her arm and point her finger directly at this girl. I jumped in front and pushed her arm down and said “No, no, no, we don’t point at people, that’s rude.” And without removing her gaze, she raised her arm back up and said, “I like her glasses.”

“I like her glasses? She has glasses?” She had these bright red thick-rimmed glasses that made her whole face shine. I was too self-absorbed to even notice. I was too concerned with being embarrassed to let that interaction happen. It made me think how many other times have I missed doing a simple act of kindness because I was too afraid of getting it wrong, that I wouldn’t even risk getting it right.

Too often we treat kindness as only a response. To turn the other cheek. If you cut me off in traffic, I’ll let you in. If you’re rude to me, I won’t punch you in the face. Kindness! But that’s just playing defense. If this were football, that’s only half the game. I want to be quarterback looking for opportunities to make a difference. I want to play offense. I want to be offensive!  

OK, not ofFENsive. OFFensive…

Offensive kindness.

Think about it: Would people be more blindsided when they’re offended, or being surprised with kindness?

People make the similar reactions to being offended or shown kindness:

Waiter says “Enjoy your meal.”
Guy, “Well, I sure hope it’s better than the service has been.”
Waiter, “Did you hear that? Can you believe what that guy said to me?”

Waiter, “Enjoy your meal.”
Guy, “Well, If it’s half as good as the service has been, I’m sure it’ll be great.”
Waiter, “Did you hear that? Can you believe what that guy said to me?”

See? Similar reaction, totally different impression. 

But true kindness, that’s not just charity or done out of moral obligation, only works if it’s Selfless, Intentional, and Neutral. That’s S-I-N. Sin. True Kindness is Offensive and SINful. 

Selfless: Halloween night, kids we know were trick-or-treating and came to a house where the lady just ran out of all her candy. This girl and her friends each gave the lady some of their own candy, so she would have some to pass out the rest of the night. That’s an authentic kind of selfless.

Intentional: When I was competing in the speech contest, my coworker Donna told me that if I won District, she would buy me a brand new suit to take to semi-finals. And she did. It was a good-lookin’ tan suit. It didn’t help, I still lost. But good-lookin’.  I can’t tell you how great it felt to be in that stressful moment before the contest, and be wrapped in a blanket of kindness. She intentionally did something she did not have to do.

Neutral: Nonpartisan. True Kindness has no exceptions or limitations. The way I knew we had found the right church to attend, after we had first started visiting, someone in the community had spray painted racist graffiti on a minority-owned business. Our minister organized a community rally to happen in their parking lot. People came with signs about Love and Peace and to stand up and say “this is not who we are!” And I looked at this group, and said these are the people, and this is the kindness I want surrounding my family.

Because true kindness is willing to help anyone no matter who they are.

Kindness seeks out people and wraps others in comfort.

It’s not concerned with what you get, but what you can give.

Kindness looks for opportunities to make a play.

It overcomes awkwardness to pay a compliment.

Simple words of kindness can have a lifelong impact.

May we all be a little more OFFENSive, S-I-N-ful, and kind.

The Paper Cut of Homelessness

As I write this I’m currently serving as an ‘innkeeper’ at our church’s Room In The Inn. It’s a city-wide program that gives shelter to homeless people at a network of churches through the winter months. They transport groups to that day’s locations, feed them, provide showers, supplies, laundry, cots, and, of course, a roof. Please do not think I’m giving myself a halo here, I pretty much signed up out of moral obligation, while wondering about how uncomfortable it would be.

And of course, reality hit me in a couple ways. First, I happened to notice my various thoughts and tasks on my way over here today:

It’s unseasonably warm, I’m almost sweating on my commute home
Need to remember to charge my phone ahead of time
Better grab my laptop to stay busy while everyone’s sleeping
I think I’m lightheaded from sitting at my desk too long today
Should get a snack to take with me
Should eat something before, who knows when we serve food
I’ll dress down so I don’t stick out
Do I take this pillow or that one?
This blanket or that one?
Maybe I’ll hit the local coffee shop in the morning

And then I realized, none of these guys would’ve had any of those thoughts.

Now, I know better than to look down on people. People are just people (for the most part). Same with these men. Some down on their luck, some struggling with their past, some just don’t have a support system. So I view my role as treating others as you would have them treat you. I don’t look at them with pity; I don’t see myself as high and mighty. They need a shower and a meal. I can be one of 15 volunteers to help with that.

The vans pull up and the men walk in like they’ve done this all winter. They know the drill better than I understand the written instructions. As it unfolds I’m just people-watching and trying to be available. They already know what they want to accomplish first. Some need a shower, some need clothes, some want to pick the prime sleeping spots. When dinner’s served they’re patient in line, and pause just a second to see if one of the plates has a slightly larger portion (I would too).

I must have done well with dressing down because I was mistaken as a guest instead of a volunteer. Three times by church members who didn’t recognize me, and at least once when a guest said, “you one of them or one of us,” before asking his question.

I took the opportunity to sit and eat with a few of the 24 men. They were in the middle of a political conversation and I knew my preconceived expectations were about to be flipped when the first comment I heard was “The responsibility is on the viewer to know whether the program they’re watching is news or opinion.” I nodded my head in agreement and perked up my ears.

They discussed the political race, “Rubio will drop out if he doesn’t win FL.”

They debated economics, “There were 270,000 jobs added last month; if you can’t find a job, that’s on you!”

They argued over war and gas prices, “OPEC controls the price of oil, it has nothing to do with the President.”

Race even came up: “Now I’m from California, I don’t see color.” “Of course you see color. And if you see me purple, you better be calling 911!”

I only wish I were able to transcribe the whole conversation between these four. One guy loved getting things riled up, the other almost couldn’t handle it and his friend quietly calmed him down, “you’re letting him get to you, you know better.”

Just delightful. I mostly nodded and chuckled. I failed at attempting to change the heated topic to sports with a “How ’bout them Titans!” They laughed but no one took the bait.

The rest of the night has been quiet. There are no less than five unique snores right now. I’m feeling a little uneasy. I know their lives have to be worse than they’re letting on, but maybe not. One said while defending the President, “Unemployment’s at 4.6%. You don’t see people starving on the streets. I mean, we’re in here, but somebody got money for this.” I know that I don’t have the ability to magically fix everything for them, whether or not I should even if I could. Because the point we’ve been tasked with isn’t ultimately to make sure everyone’s situation is pain-free. Pain is going to happen regardless of your financial state. My reaction to someone’s pain is the nucleus.

I heard a story (from radio’s “The Wally Show” I think), where they returned to a regular mission trip and told one of the locals “we’ve been praying for you.” To which the 3rd-world-country man replied “no, we pray for God to be with you. You have nothing but distractions and problems in America. Here… all we have is God.” It’s all about perspective. I thought about this recently when I heard a statistic about how few were afflicted with a certain illness. But if you’re the one with the illness, it’s a big stinkin’ deal to you! Doesn’t matter if it touches .01% of people. Your problem, no matter what it is, is still a problem.

Homelessness stinks. It’s as frustrating as hunger, which is as agonizing as depression, which is as sad as loneliness, which is as isolated as the death of a loved one, which is as debilitating as finding cancer, which is as empty as losing as a job, which to some threatens homelessness.

Paper cuts are the worst. Especially the bad ones. How can something so small hurt so bad? It controls your thoughts, can nearly immobilize you till the pain subsides, will annoy you till the skin fuses back together. I get shivers thinking about it. But no one would say that a papercut is worse than living in a shelter. “Would you rather have a paper cut or be alone and not know where you’re going to sleep and how you’re going to eat tonight?” Hand me the paper. But I know that tonight if I suddenly got a bad cut, these guys would stop and be concerned for me. They’re still just people. Good and bad like the rest of us. Willing and capable of giving and receiving friendship.

In one way or another, we’re all struggling with something. We’re tasked to love and show kindness. A roof or a bandaid means the world to the person who needs it.

The fruit of the Spirit (the outcome, the result, the action) is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.