This I Believe

Sylvia - Houston, Texas
Entered on February 19, 2008
Age Group: 50 - 65

This I Believe

I believe that unstinting kindness is one of the hallmarks of those among us who are most highly evolved. And just in case that statement provokes mental images of exquisite manners or those bankrolling humanitarian causes, let me try and be very clear about the quality I am naming.

Luckily most of us know kindness. Whether it’s a friend sharing a burden, a stranger running after us with something we have unknowingly dropped, or the neighbor who picks our garbage can out of the street, all of our lives are touched and enhanced by the everyday niceties. They grease the wheels of social interaction and give us hope in a world that can seem hostile. And the majority of us engage in kindness on a regular basis; we smile reassuringly at the mother of that toddler who is acting out, or we purchase that extra sack of groceries for those who may be going hungry.

All these acts ennoble giver and receiver, and I would not want to live in a world without them. But “unstinting kindness” takes this activity to a higher level. Unstinting means “holding nothing back” and demands a far more courageous and unselfish constitution than everyday kindness. Unstinting kindness implies a tenacity of spirit, a willingness to engage, and an ability to empathize that supersedes the norm. A model for me of this quality on the world stage is Bishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa, whose elf-like face is etched with humanity so profound, that it touches almost everyone who sees it. Watching him in televised reports, while he conducted the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, he would occasionally lay his head on the table and weep at the atrocities that people recounted. But when he raised his eyes, they were not glazed with hate or burning with revenge. Rather they shone with hope, despite the pain and sorrow, that his people could move past this horror, that forgiveness was possible, and that ultimately, healing would come.

In my own life, I have close-up models of unstinting kindness. My father was an old-fashioned lawyer who never made much money, but was incredibly rich in the regard in which clients held him. I remember people coming to our home, talking in low and halting voices about the child in trouble, the husband who was abusing his wife, or the mounting financial problems that were causing stress and shame. And my Dad always listened calmly and compassionately, doing whatever he could to offer dignity, solace and help. Not surprisingly toward the end of his life, he took up prison reform as a cause, and worked hard on making conditions more humane for those held in contempt by so many. I married a man very much like my Dad, and comments about his uncommon kindness from colleagues that I meet, make me glad for my choice.

Unstinting kindness has transformative power, and those who practice it can change the world. This, I believe.