I believe in being kind. I think kindness can change the world. Without it, very little matters.
Right now, in my driveway, a stray cat eats the cat food I gave it. It has a story. It was born into the family directly across the street from me. When the high-as-a-kite, middle-aged son beat his aged mother, breaking her leg and slamming her head into the wall, both were taken away, she to a nursing home and he to jail. Friends came and took their possessions and even their dog, but missed the cat. For weeks he has been haunting the empty house, growing skinnier every day. The situation is sad and entirely out of my control, but my humanity demands I be at least kind to this left-behind creature.
Last night, the man who cut my hedges some weeks ago came by, telling me he had lost his housing. I told him that due to the unseasonably warm weather, my grass needs cutting. He promised to borrow a lawn mower and I gave him some money. That will allow him to stay at a shelter for a few nights. Yes, it will also buy him some cigarettes and maybe even a bottle. My job is not to police him, but to be kind.
I twice allowed homeless women to share my home for months on end. I like to think my kindness made a difference in their lives. I lost track of one and the other died on Christmas last year from the illness that was responsible for her poverty and homelessness.
Why do I do this? Why not call animal control? Why not direct needy people to some agency better prepared to help them? Why? Because if I do not help where I can, I become less. Most animals collected by animal control will die. Most people who cycle through agencies fall through the social system cracks. They may be judged too old, too young, too healthy, too something for aid. They are told to go somewhere else with no means to get there. They are pushed away to be someone else's problem. I know this, and if knowing this, I do not help, I become less compassionate, less human.
It costs nothing to allow someone in line behind you with a few items to go ahead of you. It is cheap to add a dollar to the paper you buy from a street vendor in the cold, or the heat, or the rain. It is nothing to pay the library fine for someone ahead of you who came unprepared for the small fee. But for that person, it may make their day. Someone who felt invisible will feel acknowledged and valued. One never knows when another person may be ready to give up. Sometimes, simply speaking to another is enough.
Sometimes kindness is welcomed and sometimes it is viewed with suspicion. Be kind anyway. Sometimes kindness pays dividends and sometimes it is wasted. Be kind anyway. Be kind, not because you desire kindness in return, but because you aspire to better, to be more than you are at this moment.
Kindness does not require that one become a doormat, or set aside one's opinions, or become impoverished on the part of another. It does not require great riches or bravery. Kindness requires only empathy.