I started this series of self-reflections at the beginning of Lent – the time in the Christian calendar leading up to Easter. I am structuring my reflection on the Fruit of the Spirit: Love Peace Joy Patience Goodness Faithfulness Gentleness Self-Control… and this post on Kindness.
My motivation was somewhat foggy, in the beginning, but I seem to be discovering my underlying need as I proceed on my journey. I will pass over the threshold into my 8th decade in August. The something-0 birthdays, like 70, usually get me thinking about what I want to do with my life as I become a decade older, like the next decade after 69. More than the other shifts to previous decades, I seem to be thinking about what I want to be like instead of what I want to do in the future. I believe I started down this path of reflection as a way to define the kind of person I want to be, that is pleasing to God, as I transition into old age.
I found a definition of kindness: being friendly, generous, and considerate. As a child I wanted to be kind and good, but I was born an introvert and introverts have a hard time with friendly. At school I always felt like I was on the edge of the “friend’s circle” – by choice. As a young adult I was told several times that people thought I was arrogant, when they first met me, but once they got to know me I was really friendly.
A few years ago I decided I needed to be more friendly. I set the goal of learning how to do small talk – by forcing myself to talk with people when waiting in line at Polly’s, our local grocery. It worked; I actually enjoy these shared smiles, comments, laughter. Maybe this can be my gift of kindness to people who are in mind-numbing jobs, or whose work involves being harassed and berated, or who are detached because of the stress of a too-busy day. Maybe kindness is acknowledging all those invisible people I encounter as I move through my world.
The considerate part of kindness seems a lot like “playing nice.” The sentence I wanted to write next involved pointing fingers at all of you who don’t play nice; but probably anyone who reads my blog is nice. But consideration does seem to be a two-way street. I have had a hard time being assertive with people who are not considerate of me, when I feel like I’m doing all the giving. I even had a student, on a course evaluation, tell me to stop being so nice.
This is about the kindness in relationships, about the give and take that is needed. J & I weren’t always considerate of each other – especially when maintaining our relationship and keeping our household afloat required a whole lot more giving than taking. As I look back, it seems like we became snarky when there was more work than the two of us could accomplish, and neither of us felt appreciated. Both of us were giving a lot, but neither of us seemed able to recognize the different currencies we used. I didn’t recognize how stressful it was for J to be the only provider, and he didn’t seem to appreciated how hard I worked to care for our home and children. We weren’t always considerate of each other – and sometimes we didn’t play nice.
Life is easier now that we are both retired – from paid work and child rearing. However, we still have to consider the needs of the other while taking care of our own needs. We have learned to speak up, with honesty and compassion. Most important, we have learned to let the other know when s/he is being naughty – with humor and gentleness instead of meanness.
Our greatest challenge now is being considerate of the physical changes that are taking place in our aging bodies. We remember when we were young and swift and agile and firm and slim and constantly horny. We remember when we could remember things. Now we need to be considerate of how the bodies we are living in don’t allow us to do all that we used to do. We are gentle with each other, and ourselves, because we understand that the changes taking place are inevitable and scary.
Generosity is the last part of the definition of kindness. J & I engage in playful games around being generous – every time we decide on the tip after a meal out. J says I’m too generous, and I gently prod him to pull out more from his wallet. I say he is too generous in always grabbing the check instead of letting everyone pay for their own meal.
There are many ways of being generous but money is such a big issue in families. We have always pooled our money and have been very considerate of family needs over our personal needs. Now, J & I feel a strong need to support and take care of young people who are working hard to make it – struggling like we struggled. We struggle with how much to help.
Our issue is that we need to make sure we have enough money to support ourselves until we die. It is a big adjustment when employment stops, when we can no longer say we will work a little harder to make a little more. We now have to rely on what we have – the income from our investments and the money we saved. We don’t know how long we will live and what healthcare costs we will incur. I would love to give it all away but that doesn’t seem responsible. J agrees. We are learning new ways of understanding generosity, together and with kindness.
I have spent a good deal of time reflecting on kindness, how to be friendly, courteous, and generous; and this is what I now understand:
When kindness is a part of my spirit, from God, there are no random acts; kindness is evident in everything I do.