An Easy Step To A Better Day

Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.   – Mark Twain

While I was in seminary, I spent time training to be a pastoral counselor, along with ten other chaplaincy interns at a large, urban hospital.  Two days a week, we visited patients, attended autopsies, observed surgeries, and critiqued each other’s performances, under the tutelage of two professional chaplains.

I came to know a man named Bill, a supervisor in a warehouse, with a wife, two grown daughters, and liver cancer.  We first got to know each other when he was admitted for a biopsy, and I’d visit whenever he returned for treatments, earnestly trying, as the therapeutic trainee, to get him to talk about dying.  He was simply glad to see a friendly face and put up with me.

Bill got progressively worse, until his yellow skin felt like paper, and he was relegated to a hospital bed.  On a Monday night, when I happened to be on duty, we watched Monday Night Football together.  The Cowboys were playing the Redskins, back in the days of Cosell, Staubach, and Riggins, and for several hours the two of us enjoyed watching the Cowboys lose, me sitting beside the bed of a jaundiced man tied to tubes.

He died soon afterwards.  I went to the funeral, and a few days later received a note from one of his daughters, thanking me for spending time with Bill.  She specifically thanked me for the football game.  Her father, she said, appreciated having my company, and it was while watching the game that he made his peace with dying.  Bill just needed someone with him while he did.

I was glad to help, even if not in the way I intended.  Despite my efforts at being a skilled counselor, employing particular strategies to elicit information, for the enlightenment and healing of all concerned, my most effective session was watching a ball game and talking sports.  I apparently wasn’t the reincarnation of Freud.

The experience taught me an important lesson.  Whenever I try to be a therapist, to figure out what needs to be done, to display my brilliance, the results are usually less than spectacular, and often annoying.  But whenever I simply treat people with kindness the results are almost always good.  Kindness seems to know what to do.  If you ever get stuck in a situation, simply ask what kindness requires.

There isn’t a law against being kind, even though our world often treats kindness like a crime.  I’ve been told kindness is naïve; Nietzsche thought it was weak.  It doesn’t help bottom lines.  It doesn’t stop bullets.  It’s not what gets you elected.

That being said, I’ve met very few people who didn’t like being treated kindly.  Without kindness, no therapist can be therapeutic, and, when being kind, anyone can be a therapist.  My education helps me understand other people, but nothing can replace loving them.

We all know how to do it, because we all know what we like ourselves.  You simply love other people in the same manner that you want to be loved yourself.  It doesn’t have to be complicated.  Think about what feels good to you: a few minutes of someone really listening, being forgiven when you don’t deserve it, getting a helping hand when you’re beat up and ugly, being the recipient of someone else’s patience.

Every day is filled with opportunities.  You can always choose to be kind.  Others may not be kind in return, but that’s not what matters.  If it does, then kindness wasn’t present in the first place.  We can’t be kind and expect a pay-off.

That’s the counter-intuitive aspect of kindness that seems to mess a lot of people up.  But if you try it, you’ll like it.  Kindness make you smile.  Kindness is the cousin of peace.

Thankfully, I had a chance to express my appreciation to Bill for helping me.  When he was close to death, I visited at the end of my shift.  I told him how much I would miss him and gave him a kiss on the forehead.  Standing up, I composed myself, turned around, and promptly tripped over a tray stand, sending it flying into a cupboard, while I stumbled against the bed.  But the clownishness seemed fitting, and a final unspoken kindness between us.

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About Bucky Dann

I teach religion, sociology, and psychology at Southwestern Community College in the Smoky Mountains. I have worked in the United Methodist ministry and in the substance abuse field. I possess a Masters of Divinity, a Masters of Philosophy, and a PhD in the sociology of knowledge.

2 Responses to “An Easy Step To A Better Day”

  1. Bucky, you brought me to tears. I have read some of your other wonderful posts but have not taken the time to comment. This one really touched me. This is a message I try to instill in my students…Be Kind to one another…You can always choose to be kind. I love that statement, “Kindness is the cousin of Peace”. So true. Keep writing and doing the wonderful work that you do. I believe you make a big difference in many people’s lives.

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