Kindness

“He was uncommonly kind to me” Bill Clinton on Nelson Mandela

Kindness was one one of the many qualities  Nelson Mandela embodied.  Mandela’s kindness was offered freely and indiscriminately to people of great positional rank (President Clinton) and no rank. Where did this kindness come from?

In a revealing interview on BBC Newsnight last week, Clinton threw some light on this, relaying a conversation he had had with Nelson Mandela. Clinton asked: “How did you do this? You had to hate those people. Look what they did to you.” Mandela replied: “I was young and strong when I went into prison. For 11 years I lived on my hatred. Then one day I was breaking rocks and I thought of all they done to me and all they had taken from me. They had abused me physically and emotionally. They had taken away my right to see my children grow up and eventually destroyed my marriage. I realised they could take everything  except my mind and my heart. These things I decided not to give away.”

Mandela’s life attests to the truth that kindness is often cultivated in the midst of suffering as the poem Kindness, by Naomi Shihab Nye, reveals.

Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go as you know

how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.

Then it is only kindness that makes sesne anymore,
and kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is you I have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.

Three questions to ask ourselves:

What kindness have we received from others in recent days that touched us?

What kindness might suddenly break through our barren lives if we paused and, for once, gave up on advancing our own agenda?

What simple gift of kindness might we offer today?

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: