“Be kind to one another.”
It’s such a simple instruction Paul gives to the Christian community in Ephesus. Be kind to each other. They are words that we might be tempted to skip over. We’ve all heard them all our lives. Be kind, be nice, be decent.
But in our current cultural climate kindness is a lost art. We live in a time when tempers are short, differences are exaggerated, angry words flow easily onto social media. Road rage, public rants, and belittling one’s perceived enemies are commonplace.
Kindness can seem counter cultural.
Paul reminds us that being kind is part of the Christian life. It is a way of remembering that we are, as Paul says, “members of one another.”
How rare is public kindness these days? Well, examples of it make the news.
Rebecca Sabky is an admissions director at Dartmouth. She looks at thousands of college applications each year. She admits it is easy for students to become indistinguishable from one another.
“Yet in the chaos of SAT scores, extracurriculars, and recommendations, one quality is always irresistible in a candidate: kindness,” she say.
She cites an application which included a recommendation from the school custodian, who noted that the young man was the only student in the school who knew the names of every member of the janitorial staff, thanked them regularly for their work, and turned off lights in empty rooms. The student showed respect for every person at the school, regardless of position, he said.
“Being smart is valued,” Sabky says, “being decent is impressive.”
Kindness was on display in the past two weeks of the Olympics. “In an extraordinary Olympic Games where mental health has been front and center, acts of kindness are everywhere,” writes Associated Press reporter Sally Ho.
At the high jump competition, Gianmarco Tamberi of Italy and Mutaz Barshim of Qatar were tied for first place. Both were perfect until the bar was set to the Olympic-record high of 7 feet, 10 inches. Each athlete missed three times.
They could have continued, but instead decided to share the gold.
“I know for a fact that for the performance I did, I deserve that gold. He did the same thing, so I know he deserved that gold,” Barshim said, “This is beyond sport. This is the message we deliver to the young generation.”
After the decision, Tamberi slapped Barshim’s hand and jumped into his arms.
“Sharing with a friend is even more beautiful,” he said.
Earlier, on the same track, runners Isaiah Jewett of the U.S. and Nijel Amos of Botswana got tangled together and fell during the 800-meter semifinals. Rather than get angry, they helped each other to their feet, put their arms around each other and finished the race together.
Those acts of kindness played out on the world stage. More often, kindness goes unnoticed, but that does not mean it is any less powerful.
Catholic priest Gregory Boyle is the founder of Homeboy Industries in Los Angeles, which gives jobs, compassion, and hope to gang members, the thrown away of society.
In his book Barking to the Choir, he writes about one of his flock, Rene.
“Rene is having a bad day. He’s at the bus stop, eating a peach and stuck in a funk he cannot shake. Today the darkness is weighing more heavily on Rene than his usual list of burdens and woes. It is nearly paralyzing.”
Every day Rene sits on this bench waiting to take the bus to work. Every day an elderly Japanese woman is also there. He doesn’t know where she goes. They have never spoken to each other.
But this day as they make their way to the bus, the woman turns and says to Rene, “I admire you.”
“You do?” Rene asks. “Why?”
“You eat healthy,” she says. “Every morning you’re here eating fruit. A banana, an apple, today a peach. You eat fruit. So I admire you.”
Rene helps the woman on the bus and to a seat in the front. He goes to the back. He sits there and replays the conversation in his mind, and he realizes that his funk is gone.
He makes his way through the crowded bus back to the woman, gets on one knee, and looks her in the eye. “Thank you for bringing so much spirit into my day,” he says. She smiles, touches his arm, and he goes back to his seat.
“Every moment, it turns out, is an invitation to recognize our interconnectedness,” Boyle writes. Or as Paul says, “We are members of one another.”
One last story illustrates that truth.
Poet Naomi Shihab Nye was wandering around the Albuquerque Airport Terminal after her flight was delayed for four hours when she heard an announcement: “If anyone in the vicinity if Gate 4-A understands any Arabic, please come to the gate immediately.”
That was her gate. And she spoke some Arabic because her father was Palestinian. So she went. This is what happened.
“An older woman in full traditional Palestinian embroidered dress, just like my grandma wore, was crumpled to the floor, wailing. ‘Help,’ said the flight attendant. ‘Talk to her. What is her problem? We told her the flight was going to be late and she did this.’
“I stooped to put my arm around the woman and spoke in halting Arabic. The minute she heard any words she knew, however poorly used, she stopped crying. She thought the flight had been cancelled entirely. She needed to be in El Paso for major medical treatment the next day.
“I said, ‘No, we’re fine, you’ll get there, just late. Who is picking you up? Let’s call him.’
“We called her son, I spoke with him in English. I told him I would stay with his mother till we got on the plane. She talked to him. Then we called her other sons just for the fun of it. Then we called my dad and he and she spoke for a while in Arabic and found out, of course, they had 10 shared friends.
“Then I thought just for the heck of it why not call some Palestinian poets I know and let them chat with her? This all took up two hours.
“She was laughing a lot by then. Telling about her life, patting my knee, answering questions. She had pulled out a sack of homemade mamool cookies — little powdered sugar crumbly mounds stuffed with dates and nuts — from her bag and was offering them to all the women at the gate.
“To my amazement, not a single traveler declined one. It was like a sacrament. The traveler from Argentina, the mom from California, the lovely woman from Laredo — we were all covered with the same powdered sugar. And smiling. There is no better cookie.
“Then the airline broke out free apple juice and two little girls from our flight ran around serving it and they were covered with powdered sugar, too.
“And I looked around that gate of late and weary ones and thought, This is the world I want to live in. The shared world. Not a single person in that gate seemed apprehensive about any other person.
“They took the cookies. I wanted to hug all those other women, too.
“This can still happen anywhere. Not everything is lost.”
Be kind to one another, for we are members of each other.