Kindness and the presence of strength

Some weeks ago, I was walking to a function in downtown Washington, DC. The directions I had been given were not entirely accurate, and it was 8:00 a.m. on a very chilly morning. I had not worn the warmest of jackets and was grumbling to myself about how inconvenient this journey was for me. While circling around to find my destination, I walked past the entrance to a store. The entrance was recessed within a short flight of stairs and at the bottom of the stairs were two men in sleeping bags.

They were not there for an early bird special.

It was an obvious fact that they were homeless and the sleeping bags were gifts (voluntary or otherwise). One or both of them might have been dead. One had his head buried deep within the bag. The other had his eyes open staring blankly past me.

The coldness I felt suddenly had nothing to do with temperature.

My perspective changed in that instant along with my knowledge of how totally helpless I was to change their situation. The kind thing to do would be to give them some money so that they could eat (I was presuming they would use the money for food, not drugs, but who knows?). Another kind action would have been to sit with them and talk about their situation, and I could offer them ideas about how to find shelter, food, jobs . . . but I can’t even write about that without seeing how totally inappropriate it is when I can’t provide any of those. It would be like driving past someone with a flat tire, stopping, getting out of my car, going to stand next to the person, and saying “Wow. You should change that tire.” And, then getting back into my car and driving away. The kind thing to do would be to help that person change the bleeping tire.

I do not have the personal resources to rescue or change those two men or the hundreds of thousands just like them. The best I can offer them is my kindness and prayers. I can support the shelters who support them . . . but then I think, are those shelters really kind to their situation or are the shelters simply an appeasement – a way for us to say “See? We ARE doing something about the homeless!” We are . . . but not really. I don’t know that we are being kind to the homeless in perpetuating a solution that simply makes life a little bit more endurable on the street.

I think true kindness requires strength — a strong sense of being one’s own person, a strong sense of boundaries, and a very strong sense of being One with the world. It is knowing when it is appropriate to be kind (i.e., is someone being harmed?) As children, we don’t always have this type of strength. We develop it through flexing those muscles in becoming our own person, recognizing boundaries, and knowing that the homeless person is a part of us. Kind acts are often invisible to others and not necessarily an outward display. Just taking good care of ourselves and accepting responsibility for our own well-being is an act of kindness. My real tests in the seeing world come with whether or not I can respond with kindness to someone who appears to be SO very undeserving of kindness. Kindness for me is a state of being and acting that respects all people, moves our relationship towards one of wholeness, and makes it easy for me to sleep at night. It is also a kindness to accept that people have the right to make decisions for themselves and it might not be the decision I would have chosen for them.

Kindness is not a solution to life’s troubles . . . it just makes the landing a little softer.

©2011 by Barbara L. Kass

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4 Responses to “Kindness and the presence of strength”

  1. Sandi White Says:

    Barbara, you have again hit it in one lick. Where should my resources go? Should I give the homeless man a tenner or just slip it into the Red Kettle next to the Bell Ringer? I am compelled to give something, not only was I raised to do so but it is always part of my tithe. My tithe is not always money, some days it is time, or food for the food bank or even a smile for some one who has no smile of their own to give. This is the season of giving, but shouldn’t we give all year? I have to be reminded at times that my now frugal lifestyle would be like Heaven to some. I sleep in a warm house and have food in my cupboards. Some don’t even have a car to sleep in and are fed by those who can give. I have quit spitting the hairs, I just give what I can in good conscience give, remembering I have bills to pay and those people want my money too. I suppose I give because I can and thank God that I am the giver and bless the recipient. I have had my life saved by a great gift, something I can never repay. I am glad to give for what ever it is worth.

    • Barbara Kass Says:

      Hi, Sandi — I know you give and I know you are grateful for everything in your life. Sometimes, an act of kindness wears strange disguises. I think it would be an act of kindness to vote out every member of the U.S. Congress next year. Why torture ourselves and them any longer? They are obviously in a job that they are not suitable for and that is causing everyone great distress.

      To help the homeless, I think we need to find out why and how people become homeless. We can only prevent it if we deal with the root problem, not with the problems that blossom from it.

  2. Kathy Says:

    Beautiful blog, Barbara. It is a good thing when our point of view is so suddenly shifted, when our heart opens a little bit more.

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