Only kindness matters


I have been thinking a lot about kindness. You know, me and Jewel.

But it’s not just Jewel. George Saunders turned a commencement speech into a New York Times best seller and more recently, The Atlantic shared the results of decades of research into how kindness affects marriage.

Mark Twain

and Mother Teresa

and the Dalai Lama have chimed in as well.

So thinking about kindness is not new or revolutionary, but I have been thinking mostly about how it works inside families.

Thing 2 in in Y camp this week. There is someone who is not kind and this niggles at him so we have talked about how he should handle this person. I have reminded him of times when he himself has chosen to be unkind, especially to his sister, in the hopes that he might make some sort of connection as to what causes a person to act this way. He hasn’t really figured that out yet so the agreed method is to cast a wide berth around the persistently unkind kid and let the chips fall where they may. This kid isn’t in his life forever so it seems ok to let him be unless physical harm occurs. Then it becomes a different matter.

And this makes me think of how much easier it can feel to be kind to strangers than to those you love most. Thing 2 may never have to cross paths with this kid after Friday, but he will be with his sister and us for the rest of his life.

Why do we hurt people closest to us? The persistent messiness of daily life just gets wearing, I guess. Years and hurts stack up. They start to weigh on us until it feels hard to remember not having them. There is no baggage in helping out a stranger. The absence of a mental tally of who did whom wrong way back when and for how long makes the gentle offering of a hand or a dollar to someone unknown much easier.

But here is what I hope and what I strive for in my own family of four and beyond.

I hope that I can be the kind of person to pour the first glass of wine, to let the past go, to forgive myself and others, to look for what transcends history, to see beyond disappointments and baggage and fear to clearly identify what is here and now.

Thing 1 and Thing 2 went on a walk together yesterday and in some sort of temporary cosmic shift, there was no bickering. In fact, they were giggling when they returned home and I felt stunned by the ease of their companionship. Rather than call any attention to this event, I allowed myself be quietly hopeful.

I have this same sort of hope inside my extended family and Big Man’s family as we navigate aging parents and grandparents and ponder what we should have said or done. I hope for the absence of malice and the spirit of kindness towards each other in the moments that present themselves.

We all have things to let go of and I am working hard to just see and experience what is before me because what is before me is really grand. I would hate to miss it by looking too far backwards.