Three things in human life are important: the first is to be kind; the second is to be kind; and the third is to be kind ~ Henry James
As my daughter grew up, there were many times when I found myself trying to put challenges she faced (often academic) into perspective. Although I don’t actually believe in the traditional “pearly gates” version of heaven, I once jokingly asked her whether she really thought St. Peter would require her to know her multiplication tables before he’d let her in. It’s absurd—but it highlights the chasm between what seems so urgent and necessary in a day-to-day, worldly sense and what is actually, truly important.
On that score, I’m with Henry James. If we simply try on a consistent basis to be as kind as we can humanly manage, I think we are doing very well. Being kind is different, in my opinion, from being nice. Niceness seems to have a lot more to do with keeping up superficial appearances and/or an unhealthy desire to please. (I’m sure you’ve noticed that plenty of “nice” people are not actually very kind!)
Kindness is all about the other person. Oddly, many of the kindest people are very shy and actually loathe being caught in the act. True kindness is more often extended to the outliers, anyway – those who have no way of returning the favor. What it’s really about is simply recognizing the basic humanity that makes us all, utterly and forever, equals. Kindness may be as simple as looking someone in the eye and truly seeing them.
Kindness is also something that we need to extend to ourselves. In fact, being critical or judgmental or even cruel to others inevitably means we treat ourselves the same way. We have to recognize and love our own basic and flawed humanity before we can allow ourselves to do that for others.
I wish that kindness (not niceness) was actively taught in schools and homes, along with all the other skills and achievements that are more apt to be emblazoned on proud parents’ bumper stickers. I’m happy to say that my daughter is a very kind person, even though she still doesn’t know her multiplication tables. I hope that she will be happy and successful in life, yes—but the fact that she is kind is what really makes me proud to be her parent.