When Christian Kindness Shines In an Atmosphere of Egoism and Rudeness

When Christian Kindness Shines In an Atmosphere of Egoism and Rudeness
When Christian Kindness Shines In an Atmosphere of Egoism and Rudeness

Kindness is a most enchanting virtue and highly needed if we are to live together peacefully in society. It tempers our abrupt rudeness and leads us to treat others as we would like to be treated.

Kindness encompasses many similar virtues that proceed from charity. “Thus, kindness leads to treating and judging others and their actions with delicacy, writes the blog site Semeandocatequese. “It teaches indulgence in the face of other people’s defects and errors. It includes courtesy and urbanity in words and manners. Kindness embraces empathy, which sometimes needs to cultivate with special care. Cordiality and gratitude involve timely praise for the good things that come our way.”1 Thus, all these virtues—kindness, courtesy, gentleness, affection, tenderness and smoothness—teach us how to deal with people.

The famous apologist, Archbishop Fulton Sheen, explains that “[t]he word ‘kindness’ is derived from kindred or kin, and therefore implies an affection which we bear naturally to those who are our flesh and blood. The original and archetypal kindness is that of a parent for a child and a child for a parent, an idea which is preserved in the German language where Kind means child. Gradually the word gained in extension until it embraced everyone whom we are to treat as a relative.”2

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Kindness stems from the virtue of mercy, which is an effect of charity. As the renowned theologian Fr. Antonio Royo Marin, O.P. says, it “inclines us to have compassion on the miseries of our neighbors, considering them in a certain way as our own, insofar as whatever causes sorrow to our brother likewise causes sorrow to us.… God Himself manifests mercy in an extreme degree by having compassion on us.”3

This virtue is also related to piety, which, as the same theologian says, is “a filial love for God considered as Father, and a sentiment of universal brotherhood for all men as our brothers and as sons of the same heavenly Father.” (p. 387). He adds: “It is this same piety which caused St. Paul to be afflicted with the afflicted, to weep with those who wept, and to bear the weaknesses and miseries of his neighbor for the purpose of saving all.” (p. 390).

The eminent theologian says (p. 402) that affability or kindness is “the social virtue par excellence, and one of the most exquisite manifestations of the true Christian spirit.” It is very similar to true friendship, which he defines as “a virtue by which our words and external actions are directed to the preservation of friendly and agreeable association with our fellow men. … [T]rue friendship proceeds from love, and among Christians, it should be a natural result of fraternal charity; affability, on the other hand, is a kind of friendliness which consists in words or deeds in our relation with others, requiring us to conduct ourselves in a friendly and sociable manner with all our neighbors, whether they be intimate friends or strangers.”

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Fr. Royo Marin adds, “Benignity, politeness, simple praise, indulgence, sincere gratitude, hospitality, patience, meekness, refinement in words and deeds, etc., exert a kind of attraction which it is difficult to resist.” Thus, “[t]his precious virtue is of extreme importance, not only in one’s association with friends, neighbors and strangers, but in a special way within the circle of one’s own family, where it is often most neglected.”

These virtues are important in social relations because people want three essential things from others: friendliness, respect and forgiveness for their faults. They are happy when they are treated well. Their egos suffer when they are ignored, mistreated or blamed.

One day, a daughter of King Louis XV of France impatiently reproached a chambermaid without good reason. The maid replied by expressing her displeasure with the impatience. The princess said to her, “Don’t you know that I am the King’s daughter?” The maid answered with dignity: “And does Your Highness not know that I am a daughter of God?” Thus, if people saw their neighbors as children of God, they would treat them very differently. When propelled mainly by God, we avoid the hardness of heart, which comes from unhealthy self-love.

In its ancien régime (eighteenth century), countries like France took kindness and courtesy to great heights. The time was known for its “douceur de vivre”—the sweetness of life—as people treated others according to their best side. It is well known that Louis XIV, the Sun King in all his splendor, would take off his hat when greeting a simple washerwoman.

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Accordingly, “St. Francis of Sales teaches us that the first condition [of courtesy] is to be humble, because ‘humility is not only charitable but also sweet. Charity is humility projected outwardly, and humility is hidden charity’; both virtues are closely linked. If we strive to be humble, we will know ‘to venerate the image of God found in each man’ and will know how to treat people with profound respect.”4

The aforementioned Archbishop Fulton Sheen also states, “All mental abnormalities have their roots in selfishness, all happiness has its roots in kindness. But to be really kind, one must see in everyone an immortal soul to be loved for God’s sake. Then everyone is precious.”

In the same vein, the soaring eagle of Hippo, Saint Augustine, says: “The fruits of charity are joy, peace and mercy. Charity requires kindness and fraternal correction. It is benevolent. It promotes reciprocity and remains disinterested and generous. It is friendship and communion. Love is in itself the accomplishment of all our works. That is the goal; that is where we run. We run towards it, and as soon as we get there, we will find our rest.”

Unfortunately, gone are the days of courtesy, kindness and respect. Kindness is increasingly cast aside with technological advances. Above all, we experience a profound religious orphanhood due to the malice of the times. People are increasingly more pragmatic, selfish and absorbed by their little world and smartphones. It is as if others do not exist.

This selfishness makes it especially difficult to be kind to those who ask for a favor or gift. Indeed, Archbishop Fulton Sheen says that, “Kindness towards the afflicted becomes compassion, which means a suffering with, or an entering into the distress and the pains of others as if they were our own.”

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He explains that kindness “enlarges the interest of the heart beyond all personal interest and prompts us to give either what we have in the form of alms, or the giving of one’s talent as a doctor may treat a poor patient, or the giving of one’s time which is sometimes the hardest thing of all to give.” As a consequence, “The truly compassionate and kind man who gives up his time for others manages to find time.”

He notes that “[m]any people who are very kind in their homes and offices can become very unkind and selfish once they get behind the steering wheel of an automobile. This is probably due to the fact that in their home they are known; in the automobile they have the advantage of anonymity and hence can be almost brutal without the fear of discovery.” And he concludes: “To be kind out of fear of others thinking we are unkind is not real kindness, but rather a disguised form of egotism.”

Intrigue, debauchery and bantering are frequent sources of disagreements and mistreatment. They are contrary to the kindness and respect that social manners require. Unfortunately, the decline of religious practice and the consequent neglect of good customs make the lack of kindness increasingly in vogue.

Fortunately, remnants of kindness still exist. Sometimes striking examples appear when we least expect them.

An older friend of mine told me an unforgettable example of kindness he experienced when traveling abroad.

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It happened on his trip from the United States to Brazil. Having a long layover at his connection in Toronto, Canada, he left his bags at the airport and took a train to visit the city. As he walked along a large avenue in the freezing cold, he tripped and fell face down with the full weight of his body. Since his hands were in his pockets due to the cold, he could not break the fall. He broke his nose and two teeth and cut his lips during the violent fall. Blood flowed profusely from his nose.

He was so stunned by the fall that he momentarily lost his memory and remained motionless on the ground. Then, a young couple came to his aid. They helped him sit up and wiped the blood off his face with great kindness and consideration for his age.

When he recovered a bit, they asked where he lived, if there was anyone he could call. After a moment of amnesia, my friend explained that he was visiting during his layover. As her handkerchief was soaked with blood, the young woman ran to a nearby restaurant to get a handful of paper napkins.

Another young man arrived and, seeing my friend shivering in the cold, bought him a pair of gloves, helped him put them on and sought to help him in other ways. The two young men managed to help him sit on a nearby stone bench.

The kindness continued. The first young man had called for medical aid. An ambulance soon appeared with some very friendly medics. They professionally examined the wounds, took his temperature and blood pressure and checked his heartbeat. All this was done with great kindness and consideration for his age.

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To make sure his accidental fall had not affected his memory, they asked him questions about Brazil, his family, and other details. Like good Samaritans, they left him in a hospital, where he had stitches on his nose and lips and was discharged. He returned to Brazil that same day.

My friend was deeply touched by the kindness and care of these young people. They were from a technological, computerized, and pragmatic generation, orphaned from religion. Many probably never received home lessons in courtesy but nevertheless treated him so well.

My friend said he never felt helpless despite suffering a serious accident in a foreign country where he knew no one. He met people who cared for him with Christian charity and displayed the same consideration they would have shown a relative.

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Footnotes

  1. Semeando Catequese, “The Virtue of Kindness” at //semeandocatequese.wordpress.com/2014/01/23/virtude-da-amabilidade/.
  2. Bishop Fulton J. Sheen, Ph.D., D.D., Way to Happiness (Garden City, N.Y.: Garden City Books, 1954), pp 133-135.
  3. Fr. Antonio Royo Marín, O.P., The Theology of Christian Perfection (New York: The Foundation for a Christian Civilization, 1987), p. 356.
  4. Semeando Catequese.

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