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Living with Kindness

When our children were small I had an interesting conversation with one of their teachers. We were discussing educational theory and the challenges in American Education when she said, “Maybe the most you can hope for in a teacher is kindness.” Over the years, I have observed that a kind teacher is a gift. We have found that not all teachers are kind. The same can be said for bosses, doctors, neighbors, and more.

I recently learned about James Rhee.* When he was 5 years old he was given a red helicopter from a friend’s dad in thanks for a small act of kindness. It made a lasting impression that has endured. He is now a goodwill strategist who has found success and made an impact by combining kindness and math. He has leveraged his background in law, money markets, and education to uncover a vision of economic and ethical goodwill marked by kindness. Among other things, he transformed a failing retail company serving plus-sized Black women. He was an expected leader in this role as an Asian man. He leads by kindness; by caring for others and creating a culture where people are valued and free to be themselves. He teaches that kindness is not random but intentional and not weak but strong.

Is that how you think of kindness?

Do you know that in the Old Testament of the Bible there is a Hebrew word used to describe God’s kindness: hesed. In English, hesed has been translated: steadfast love, mercy, faithfulness, goodness, strength, loyalty, or tender-loving kindness. It seems no one word is able to fully capture it. Michael Card explains that hesed means the person from whom I have a right to expect nothing gives me everything.**

This kind of kindness is hard to explain or fully understand. The prophet Isaiah expresses it this way: in his kindness, like a shepherd, God gathers his people like lambs in his arms and carries them close to him. (Isa 40:11) As we are held in God’s tender-loving kindness we find life, in it’s truest form. We know that we are valued and are free to be ourselves. We are free to grow into our truest form where we are marked by hesed. Even more, by some miracle, we can begin to become kind and merciful ourselves. James Rhee combined math and kindness. An educator can combine teaching and kindness. We can take whoever we are and whatever ability we have and combine it with kindness.

Perhaps now more than ever, we need kindness. We need to get back out into the world and embrace each other as humans, kindly. We can do this in 3 ways:

1. Be kind to yourself: your heart, your mind, and your body. When we are tender and gracious with ourselves, it helps us to respond to others this way as well and helps us improve our overall well being.

2. Be other-centered. Live and lead with kindness, showing a sense of compassion and generosity to others. Leave the room, the conversation, the world around you better than you found it.

3. Remember that kindness endures. Kindness is more than something you do or the way you do something. Kindness can be a physical presence we carry with us. It is goodwill. It is compassion. It is hesed. It is a gift. Proverbs 3:3 tells us “Do not let kindness and truth leave you. Bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart.”

As the ancient Greek storyteller Aesop said, “No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.”


* Ted Talk, “The Value of Kindness at Work”

** Inexpressible: Hesed and the Mystery of God’s Lovingkindness, Michael Card


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