Kindness is an easier trait to achieve than we often think.
When I was a young student, I was desperate to be viewed as clever. My intellect was the character trait I was most pleased with, but I was insecure about it, so it was vitally important that other people acknowledge it.
In order to be clever, I became verbally combative, reveling in argument for the sake of argument. For some reason, I thought it was a fun way to pass the time. In class, I would make satirical comments about the opinions of my classmates and try to show off by talking circles around them or name-dropping obscure philosophers.
I no longer behave this way – at least, not intentionally (sometimes old habits die hard). There are two reasons I’m trying to leave “cleverness” behind. First, I slowly began to realize that it was a character trait that made me unlikable. What I thought was cleverness was actually seen by others as arrogance. Second, when I left undergrad and arrived in graduate school, I entered an academic institution in which pretty much everyone was more clever than me. The game was up.
One of the unexpected side effects of a constant need to feel clever was that, to feel smarter, I had to convince myself that other people were not very clever. This led to all sorts of judgmental and unkind thoughts, a sort of interior monologue in which I denigrated what other people said and how they acted. It was almost as if the thoughts we have about other drivers on the highway – the kind of thoughts we all have but are ashamed to admit and feel foolish about once the car is parked – were running through my mind all the time. The need to constantly judge people is a heavy weight to carry. I resolved to put it down. I resolved to see the best in other people and treat them with kindness.
The world is in great need of more kindness. This is what Fr. Lawrence Lovasik writes in his book The Hidden Power of Kindness. When I thought about the kind of person I wanted to be, what kind of world I wanted my children to grow up in, and what I one day hope to be remembered for, I don’t particularly care if people ever consider me clever, but I would very much like if people recall me as having been kind. That’s the goal.
The first step in acting with kindness is to think with kindness. This small change in mental habit is transformative and spills out into our actions in many different ways. Father Lovasik explains why.
Kind thoughts help you deal successfully with others
“A kind eye,” Lovasik writes, “while recognizing defects, sees beyond them.” A genuinely kind person sees the best in others, which makes interactions with them less stressful and more pleasant. There is no need to judge their motives negatively and act with suspicion. In return, a kind person tends to have more influence and form friendships more quickly.
Kind thoughts preserve you from relationship mistakes
Kindness is a way of expressing love. In the presence of love, bitterness, envy, and misunderstandings disappear. In the presence of kindness, arguments are quickly resolved and resentment doesn’t take root, even with people who have difficult personalities.
Kind thoughts promote peace
Lovasik writes, “To keep peace in your hearts, you must cultivate kind thoughts.” Kindness naturally sets our hearts at ease and helps to set others at ease.
Kind thoughts never fail to bring joy
What I noticed about my desperate need to be clever is that it was making me unhappy. It fed into my insecurities and caused me to look down on other people. Kindness is the opposite. It brings out the best in our personal interactions and focuses our attention away from the negative and towards sources of joy.
Kind thoughts let you share in the good that others do
We can’t all be good at everything. This can be a depressing thought. To a kind person, though, it’s a joyful thought, because kindness leads to a desire to see other people succeed. Kindness celebrates when others do well.
St. Basil says, “He who plants kindness gathers love.” Practicing kind thoughts is transformative. It can change our personal happiness and improve our relationships, changing the world one deed at a time.