I continue our journey through positivity with a look at kindness. The day I began writing about kindness a friend sent me a poem, The Mower by Phillip Larkin that included the following line:

“Of each other, we should be kind, while there is still time.”

What a wonderful statement – particularly for an old man like myself.

In my life, being kind is an attitude that involves hearing, seeing, speaking and action.

One of the kindest things I can do is listen. Many people just need someone to hear them with acceptance. I do not have to agree with them but just listening means I am respecting them as a person.

Listening is more than hearing. I can hear someone trying to find fault with what they are saying. I can hear without respect. I can hear and second guess. Too often my hearing is just waiting for the chance to express my point of view.

I need to listen and try to understand the problems, the issues of others’ lives. You can never tell when listening will pay off.

Several years ago, I visited a doctor I had not seen professionally. When he entered the room, he asked are you Professor Jeral Williams? I replied I used to be; I am retired. He said “I want to say thank you; you saved my life.”

He proceeded to tell me he was one of many students in one of my Psychology classes. His father was struggling and drinking heavily. He was going home and thought he was supporting his dad by drinking with him. The drinking was greatly affecting his life and he was flunking my class and others. He said “I came to you and you listened. I got help and it saved my life.” When he needed it the most, my listening made the difference.

I am not sharing this to make myself look good, I am sharing to show the value of listening. I am sure there were people who needed my ear and I failed them. This was one time God used me and I am thankful.

I regret I did not ask more questions of my older relatives and listen to their stories. I wish my grandparents were alive so I could learn more about the Yellow Fever, the Great Depression, WWII and more.

I try to see with kindness rather than seeing with judgement and prejudice, but I often fail. Whether it is unattractiveness, types of clothes, the look of a car, appearance of a house or a host of other observations, I am capable of looking with judgement and prejudice. Prior experience plays a role. I work hard to see beyond personal experience and perceive with kindness, but is a work in progress.

In my own life listening and seeing with kindness are easier than speaking or acting with kindness. If I approach a conversation with a spirit of kindness, even in conflict, the outcome is better. I should say especially in conflict. When I see or hear something with which I disagree or I believe needs correction, if I discuss the matter in a kind manner, I increase my chances of being heard and respected.

Speaking with harshness is a particular struggle in my life. I am too quick to speak harshly, especially if I am having to repeat something, if want control, or if think someone was not listening to me. Often, I am harsher with Jeny than those who I do not love nearly as much. I have more problems with this since my stroke. I will keep trying to speak with kindness.

My approach to speaking with kindness is twofold: first, responding in a kindly manner and second, looking for ways to initiate a kind word. My major focus is on responding kindly but I need to be more proactive and put more effort into thinking of kind things I can say to encourage others.

Similarly, kind actions are twofold. First, I can respond to a situation with kindness. Second. I can initiate acts of kindness. In my own personality, responding with kindness comes easier than initiating kindness. I am not perfect in responding with kindness. I have road rage, anger at referees, disappointment in the behavior of others, but my faith gives me a receptive spirit for the most part.

The real work is the active pursuit of kindness. With God’s help the opportunities are available if I seek them.

One real life example is our Jerry-Jeny coffee routine. For years, I awoke and went about my business waiting for Jeny to have her two cups before we spoke. I now bring her the first cup. A simple act of kindness I could have performed years ago.

She returns the act by microwaving and bringing me a cup of decaf after supper. Simple acts, but kind acts that are important to our ever-developing relationship.

I have to work to find proactive acts of kindness but when I do, I live in a better world.

As I wrote this blog, I received a daily poem in my email that was written by a First Nation poet. Even if you are not into poetry, I think you can sense the impact of kindness in her short verse.

If You Knew

Ruth Muskrat Bronson

If you could know the empty ache of loneliness,
          Masked well behind the calm indifferent face
Of us who pass you by in studied hurriedness,
          Intent upon our way, lest in the little space
Of one forgetful moment hungry eyes implore
          You to be kind, to open up your heart a little more,
I’m sure you’d smile a little kindlier, sometimes,
          To those of us you’ve never seen before.

If you could know the eagerness we’d grasp
          The hand you’d give to us in friendliness;
What vast, potential friendship in that clasp
          We’d press, and love you for your gentleness;
If you could know the wide, wide reach
          Of love that simple friendliness could teach,
I’m sure you’d say “Hello, my friend,” sometimes, 
          And now and then extend a hand in friendliness to each.

To all of you,

I extend my hand in peace and kindness.

Jerry

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