Friday, February 17, 2006

Be kinder than necessary, for everyone you meet is fighting some sort of battle.

Kindness may seem a vague word, one covering a variety of niceties. But thoughtfulness is not hazy or unclear. The week of February 14th is designated as Kindness Week by Congress. This week is celebrated with compassionate acts and emphasizes practicing consideration year round.

In 1993, Dr. Chuck Wall, heard a news commentator describe a horrible event as “just another senseless act of violence.” That’s when he presented his college class with a challenge. He encouraged them to go out and commit a “random act of senseless kindness and write about it.”

But Dr. Wall’s motivational story started earlier than the college assignment. In junior high and high school, his grades weren’t that good. He was treated as if he didn’t have learning capacity. Finally diagnosed with severe onset retinitis pigmentosa (RP), Wall said, “I was so relieved.” He went home and told his parents, “The only thing wrong with me is I’m going blind!”

He enrolled in college, and the first semester would have failed except for one young man’s help. With the growing obstacles of RP, he maintained a C average and received his degree. He went to graduate school, completing three Masters with a 3.95 grade point. Finally, he received his Ph. D. with a 4.0, all because kind people helped him.

Media reports often focus on upsetting news—murder, bankruptcy, theft, gang violence, rampant street drugs. Because of technology, a tragedy can happen in Budapest, Hungary or Bogotá, Colombia and we hear about it immediately.

Most who receive such news don’t have personal resources or connections to alleviate massive suffering. But many hands, in imitation of God’s grace, compassion, and bountiful love (Jonah 4: 2), can lessen misery a world away. Closer-at-home generosities such as casseroles for the sick and letting a driver “go first” brighten neighborhoods.

I recall a simple act of charity that cheered me. While shopping, I reached for a bottle of salad dressing, a specific brand we like. Beside the bottle someone had propped a coupon—not outdated—for the exact flavor I was about to buy. Because of thoughtfulness for another, an earlier shopper saved me 50 cents. I wrote my first letter to an editor about that simple gift.

Though blind, Dr. Chuck Wall had a vision for a struggling world, where benevolence could make a difference. Charles Kuralt said, “The everyday kindness of the back roads more than makes up for the acts of greed in the headlines.” This week, this year, celebrate big heartedness.

Pour the milk of human kindness into the world’s tin cup.

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