The Catharsis of Kindness

‘Practice random acts of kindness.’ I came across this bumper sticker a number of times while working in the U.S.. The word ‘random’ means ‘accidental’ or ‘chance’, and doesn’t carry any sense of purpose or intent, but I think what the bumper sticker is trying to say is ‘be spontaneous.’

Be spontaneous with kindness. Why? What can kindness accomplish? It feels good to be on the receiving end of a kind act, but what more than that? I’ve received more than my fair share of kindness in recent weeks and I’m starting to pursue the ‘what more.’ My 17 week old daughter suffers from severe Gastro-oesophogeal reflux and has to be fed through a naso-gastric tube when she won’t take a bottle, which is most of the time. Babies need to feed many times a day, but it is incredibly stressful trying to feed a baby who, though hungry, doesn’t want to feed, refuses to feed, and/or is in pain and discomfort when she feeds. It’s irregular (shouldn’t babies be comforted by food?) and very distressing. However, people are typically very sympathetic to a baby girl with a sweet face and a tube coming out of her nose. But what of the child’s mother? What do people make of the woman crying in a waiting room? Or losing her patience and temper as, for the fourth or fifth time that day, her baby screams, won’t drink, and is promptly sick as just a tiny amount of milk trickles into her stomach through the tube?

All I can say is, to those of you who do practice spontaneous or even random acts of kindness, your acts can have a disproportionately positive impact. A nurse passing by as I sat in a waiting room, noticing my distress, took my child in her arms and held the syringe for me as I slowly poured milk into it. She then offered me tea and sat with me while I gathered myself together. Someone at a playgroup offered to look after my toddler. Someone gave up their seat on the bus. Someone sent food to my house. Someone paid for a taxi to the hospital.

I often think of the Samaritan woman Jesus came across at Jacob’s well (John 4). Jesus asks if she will give him something to drink (will a socially withdrawn and emotionally damaged woman treat him, a Jewish male, kindly?) before offering her a gift she does not deserve and could not possibly repay. Yes, it was amazing that he knew everything she’d ever done, but equally amazing and no doubt stirring for the woman was the kindness with which he treated her. No judgment, no condemnation, no prerequisites. A random encounter for her provides the opportunity for a deliberate encouragement from him, which changes the course of her life.

We don’t know if Jesus knew that this woman would be at the well that day but he didn’t hesitate to be kind to her when she showed up. Even knowing what he did—that she was a woman with five failed marriages, currently living with a man not her husband, or worse, not her husband—didn’t stop him from being kind to her. He could have given her a useful lesson in relationships but instead he offers her the gift of eternal life and love. When she heads back to town she’s a changed woman.

The cup of tea the nurse offered me that day was not eternal life, and I am living with my first not fifth husband, but by the time I got home that day, my spirits had revived, and when she phoned me the next day to see how I was, the world truly felt like a better place. Her kindness was kinetic and cathartic: it moved me and released me. What might your kindness release? Who might your kindness release? Random kindness is nice. But acts of spontaneous intentional take-time-for-you kindness are better by far.

Madi Simpson

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One response to “The Catharsis of Kindness

  1. I think you point to a truth as important as practising kindness; and that is receiving kindness. Too often our response when someone offers is to say,”Oh I’m okay, I can take care of it.” The reality is that we want (and in fact need) the kindess, but for a variety of reasons (not the least of which is we are taught to stand strong on our own two feet) we say no. I learned a long time ago no one can give something, unless there is someone willing to receive. You point out the wonderful joy of receiving kindess, and by experiencing that joy, you have allowed others to experience the joy of giving.

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