My girlfriend and I were talking about things, you know the way you do when you get together with a friend you haven’t visited with for awhile. We were catching up on all the family and friends goings on.
Our family had a new baby this week. The one I wrote about here. She arrived a few days early. Kind of a poetic thing, really. Kensington was born on June 23. Mama’s birthday was January 23. Everybody is happy and healthy.
My sister, the baby’s grandmother, prays specific prayers over each of her grandchildren. By that I mean she prays character traits right into her grandchildren before they are even born.
I was telling my girlfriend about how my sister does that and what a wonderful thing that is, to pray a child’s character into being. So, my friend, she wondered out loud if it would be better to pray for a child to be smart or to be kind.
That’s a good question, I said.
Of course it would be great to be both – smart and kind. There are some people like that. I have met them. When I conduct writing workshops the one thing I always recommend to young writers is to be kind to everyone they meet. I tell the story about how John Green and I once served on a panel at the Conference for the Book in Mississippi. We were doing joint readings before a large audience, along with the wonderfully funny and always entertaining Julia Reed.
Nobody really knew me or John Green at the time. Most people were there to see Julia Reed. John was reading from his first novel – Looking for Alaska – and I was reading from my family’s memoir –After the Flag has been Folded. Julia was reading from her book Queen of the Turtle Derby, which is a laugh out loud funny book. Reed is hysterical anytime of the day or night but she was especially so in that book.
Sometime during that conference, we had this book signing event with all the authors. There were a bunch of us. John Green went around the room and bought a copy of everyone’s book. We are talking hundreds of dollars of books. He had us sign our books by telling his future wife all the reasons why she ought to marry him. I left that event that evening thinking that John Green was one of the kindest people I had ever met.
But John Green isn’t just kind.
So it is possible to be both very kind and very smart. I’m praying my grandsons grow up to be very kind and very smart, but if I had to choose one characteristic over the other, I’d choose kindness.
Kindness is undervalued in our society.
There are all sorts of studies that suggest that kindness is physically beneficial to us, it can lengthen our lives, make us happier people, less prone to depression and, some studies say, even less likely to have heart attacks or strokes.
Yet, at any given college campus around the nation, you can find classes in assertiveness training and probably won’t find a class that teaches a person how to be kind. Is that because we regard kindness as something innate and not teachable?
Kindness, of course, can be taught, should be taught. I know plenty of parents who do teach their children kindness, but I also know plenty of people who were never taught to be kind, and aren’t.
I would bet that Charleston shooter Dylann Roof was never taught the value of kindness. People who knew him say that Dylann was a smart kid. Nobody I’ve read said he was a kind kid.
I think kindness is the reason the Bible says we should regard others more highly than ourselves.
That’s not a very popular saying in our narcissistic-bent culture. A person who regards others as more highly than themselves is considered weak in our culture. That person lacks self-esteem, today’s thought-leaders declare. We can’t understand a person who sits back and doesn’t demand the limelight. We have no use for the person who leads quietly instead of loudly. We can’t grasp why any person might sacrifice their needs and/or desires for another’s.
Our culture’s mantra is Live Life Out Loud. We don’t understand people who do kind things and don’t post about them on Instagram or Facebook. What’s the point of being kind if you can’t brag about being kind?
I had this prophetic dream years ago. I wrote about it in Where’s Your Jesus Now? so I won’t go into all of it here, but the gist of the dream was that I asked God a question about why some people were mean and others nice. And he replied something about the way a person is has a lot of do with what’s poured into their lives. Studies suggest that kindness breeds kindness. It doesn’t matter what age you are, if you are around people who are kind, you are more likely to act kind yourself. If you are around people who act hateful, you are more likely to act hateful.
I guess that’s also why the Bible says bad company corrupts good morals. Whether you believe in the Bible as the Word of God or not, you have to concede that is chocked full of some pretty good quotes.
Wendell Berry is somebody else who is pretty quotable. Berry is one of the those people who regards others as more highly than himself, so you won’t find any selfies of Wendell floating around Instagram.
I like this quote of Berry’s from one of his books: “Perhaps all the good that ever has come here has come because people prayed it into the world.”
If we really want to shed the world of the evil perpetuated by people like Dylann Roof, I reckon maybe we ought to start practicing intentional acts of kindness, instead of random ones.
And it wouldn’t hurt any of us one bit to start praying to be a more kind people in the right here and right now.
Karen Spears Zacharias is author of the forthcoming book, Burdy. (Mercer University Press).