I believe in kindness of both purpose and demeanor, despite all of it’s intrinsic human imperfection. Whether by a word chosen, a touch made, or an action taken; kindness completes the human connection in ways that are more likely to be fondly remembered by giver and receiver alike than any other road taken.
This is not to say that I don’t regularly fall short of my own aspirations to be kind. Quite to the contrary, I have many regrets for the moments in my life when I chose differently, or confused that which was kind with that which was right. Other times I told myself that teaching the lesson or outing the truth was the right path, only to have time and repose show me that I was merely feeding my own ego by making sure others knew I was right. After the smoke clears though, the world usually remembers me more for how I handle myself and for whether or not I am kind, than for whether or not I am right or wrong. True kindness has no roots in pride.
Kindness at best yields a quiet reward, one that often takes a long time to become evident. I have occasionally been surprised, sometimes years later, to learn that I influenced or inspired someone by being kind without even knowing it. These have been some of my sweetest and most humbling moments. But more often I remain in the dark forever, never knowing for sure. Usually being kind merely cedes any power to be had in the moment, and gives no leverage for further political or circumstantial advancement. It stands in silence at the end of a hard day, and draws no attention to itself.
Kindness isn’t always easy to give either, despite seeming simple at first. This is especially true with those closest to me, precisely because I care for them so much. Being a completely engaged father has taught me this. The responsibilities that come with this job often breed intense desires to “teach the lesson”, so much so that the “kindness of the moment” loses out to the “kindness of the truth”. I think sometimes I sell my children short by pointing out their missteps, rather than by simply giving them a soft place to land. I’m often sure afterward that the lesson wouldn’t have gone unnoticed without me, making the truth – as bluntly rendered by me – highly overrated.
So does kindness leave us unappreciated and regretful as a matter of course? I hope not. Kindness has taught me many useful things as well. It has taught me to apologize, usually to my children, for how I act even when I am “right”. It let me find solace when I allowed myself to be tarnished in the eyes of someone I admired, in order that they might be able to hold on to an image of a loved one despite circumstances telling a different story. It has taught me to allow others a bad moment, and to “count to ten before firing back”. We’ve all had moments that weren’t our best, and that we’d rather not be defined by. Kindness has taught me to sometimes just “let it go”, whatever “it” is.
Being a physician has afforded me a unique perspective and window to the most intensely personal and vulnerable times of others. About what really matters and what doesn’t. So I continue to try – albeit imperfectly – to apply these same considerations of kindness to my own evolution. But I am merely a work in progress. I realize that I will never lay claim to the goal of kindness at all times and in all forms to everyone I meet. Human nature doesn’t allow for that kind of perfection – it allows one only to aspire. I realize that my legacy of influence through kindness will be judged a relative success or failure only after I am gone, and that I will never know how it turns out. But I choose to continue to try, to love others as completely as I can, and tell myself as often as possible that being kind truly is the right and the best thing to do. This I believe.
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