It’s good to regularly read verses by the poet Khalil Gibran. On Monday of this week, Kindness Week, I looked for something from Gibran that is germane to contemporary society in that regard. This passage spoke to me:
“I have learned silence from the talkative,
Toleration from the intolerant,
And kindness from the unkind;
I am ungrateful to those teachers.”
There is a lot of wisdom in these lines. We reflexively cringe when in the company over-talkative people. We recoil when intolerant people hurl insults (or we should). We feel sad and empty when in the presence of unkind people.
The first two faults are actually forms of the third fault, unkindness. When someone hogs the conversation, she is being unkind. Obviously, intolerance is extreme unkindness.
When we endure the onslaught of words from talkative people, and ponder the hatred from intolerant people, we have the opportunity to think about the times we have engaged in self-centered communication and when we have expressed displeasure about certain groups of people. As Gibran implies, there is much to learn from unkind people.
On the other hand, there is much to learn from a positive point of view. One of His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s most famous sayings is: “This is my simple religion. There is no need for temples; no need for complicated philosophy. Our own brain, our own heart is our temple; the philosophy is kindness.”
Kindness is one of those simple, but not always easy virtues we practice. We understand instinctively what is good about acceptance, compassion, generosity, honesty, integrity and so forth. These are ways in which we interact with people. These concepts are the primary ingredients found in folks with good character.
We all have the capacity to practice these virtues, but these days it’s so easy to forget. Every day we see examples of kind people. There are famous celebrities like Ellen DeGeneres, one of the most generous, kind television stars ever. Then there are the friends and relatives we know who modestly practice kindness. They never spread gossip, they are generous, honest, compassionate people. Loving kindness practically oozes from their pores.
I read something somewhere that sums up the practice of kindness well. It said that we should treat everybody we know and meet as if they are dying. We should treat them with all the understanding, patience, and care we would share with someone on their deathbed. This should be done without thoughts of reward. This is good advice because, in fact, everybody is dying.
A good experiment for the rest of this week, is to try out this advice with everyone we meet. The results of the experiment should be quite interesting.