SouthCoast Today: By any definition, kindness matters

By Susan Pawlak-seaman
Live and Learn
October 28, 2011 12:00 AM

Maybe because I spend a lot of time waiting in traffic, bumper stickers catch my eye. Such as the one I saw last weekend when I was heading to the Dartmouth Mall:

“Remember to be kind,” it said in large letters. Then, in smaller print, it noted “Peace Abbey in Sherborn, Mass.”

Since I wasn’t familiar with the Abbey, I did a quick Google search and learned that “Peace Abbey is dedicated to creating innovative models for society that empower individuals on the paths of nonviolence, peacemaking, and cruelty-free living.” To that end, a variety of programs are offered.

While the Abbey’s overall mission is noble, what impressed me most, however, was the simple message on the bumper sticker.

“Remember to be kind.”

Sad to say, it’s a reminder that’s very much needed. Because so many people in so many ways have forgotten how to be kind.

Just what is kind? If you check a dictionary, you’ll get all sorts of answers. You’ll see words like “generous” or “warm-hearted.” Or “sympathetic” or “understanding” or “charitable.” Or even “humane” as in being kind to animals.

There are other words that might not immediately come to mind. A couple of online dictionaries equate “kind” with “tolerant.”

Whatever you regard as synonyms for — or at least close sentiments to — kind, we seem to be lacking in many of them.

Mere mention of the vast wealth of Wall Street makes me think of greed, not generosity. I certainly don’t see much sympathy coming from that direction — not when banks continue to foreclose on the American Dream and companies with record profits fail to share a smidgen of them with their workers.

Or hire any new ones to ease the latter’s burden.

On the political front, far as I can tell there’s no such thing as kindness. Or tolerance. Or respect. They’re all missing in action. And I’m not just talking about Reds vs. Blues, Republicans vs. Democrats. There’s a huge amount of nastiness and name-calling going on among people of the same party.

I’m sure some will hasten to point out that we witnessed a similar level of political posturing the last time around when the Democrats had a bitter fight for the nomination. But this time it strikes me as worse. Maybe because society is a more mean-spirited place than it was four years ago. Just about everyone is strapped and stressed — and for a lot of people, just getting through the day requires so much energy that there’s little left over for basic human decency.

Hard as it is, though, we have to hang on to what we’ve got. I hate to think what will happen if we don’t.

As I looked at that bumper sticker last weekend, I was reminded of something else: the lyrics to my favorite Jewel song, “Hands,” especially the line that goes “In the end, only kindness matters.”

No matter how we define it.

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