Editors Note: Originally published November 26, 2015.
SummaryThis neglected virtue, says Dr. Mitchell Kalpakgian, expresses charity in small and large ways that include both speech and behavior and manners and morals.
While the word “nice” has a common use that means pleasant or enjoyable in general as in ‘have a nice day,’ ‘a nice person,’ or ‘a nice job,’ the word does not have the praiseworthy meaning that the word kind signifies.
The virtue of kindness expresses charity in small and large ways that include both speech and behavior and manners and morals.
Many people who are religious or dutiful are not always kind because they neglect the simple amenities and acts of thoughtfulness that refine human behavior and add cordiality and cheerfulness, a warmth that transforms a person’s state of emotion or mood or touches his heart.
A person can be virtuous but priggish, good but self-righteous, religious but rigid. The virtue of kindness makes goodness not only moral and right but also beautiful and winning.
While it takes a little effort to be nice and say “thank you” or “excuse me,” kindness demands an act of the will to extend oneself, go out of the way, and to do more than the minimum.
Lead with Gentility
Father Lawrence G. Lovasik’s The Hidden Power of Kindness (1962) devotes a large portion of this spiritual classic to the various expressions of kindness often overlooked and neglected by even devout Christians serious about living a moral life.
These acts of kindness consist of small, simple, generous, and tactful gestures that produce great effects.
The life and speech of Christ exemplify, as Lovasik explains, all these human touches of kindness that move hearts and win souls. Dwelling at length on the importance of speech, words, praise, and compliments as gracious reflections of charity that naturally express kindness, he writes, “If you are right, try to win people gently and tactfully to your way of thinking.”
That is, no one can be browbeaten, coerced, or threatened into agreement, but someone “may possibly be led to agree if you are gentle and friendly.” Kindness wins the heart with calmness and courtesy rather than conquers the mind with disputatious argument and ponderous evidence.
Kindness always takes pains to avoid hurting people’s feelings by thoughtless words, gratuitous insults, or sarcastic remarks. Guarding the tongue, kindness knows that charity often requires silence.
How You Can Stop Hurting People’s Feelings
In a chapter entitled “Learn to avoid speaking unkindly,” the kind person remembers when not to speak or knows when a topic of conversation is inappropriate.
He knows these precepts: “never to say a harsh word,” “do not track down your neighbor’s faults,” and “if you cannot say anything good about a person, say nothing at all.”
As the book explains, Christ never corrected people for trifles or resorted to nagging. In reprimanding them for sin, He always exercised “delicacy of feeling and great tactfulness” and never judged them because of irritation or provocation.
Those deserving of reproof need correction, in St. Paul’s words, “in a spirit of gentleness,” and their sensibilities respond to tenderness rather than harshness.
While kindness often demands silence, measured words, or the custody of the tongue, it also recognizes the underestimated possibilities of the spoken word. “One single word of love” often does more good than many deeds accompanied by great expenses.
A kind word is “a creative force” and has an “irresistible power” to move hearts and melt obstinacy, and these kind words Father Lovasik compares to warm sunshine that energizes plants, transforms the day, and lifts human spirits.
The book recalls Christ’s many examples of kindness that touched others and changed their lives: “Our Lord never met a sad person for whom He did not have a word of comfort, a fearful person for whom He did not have a word of encouragement, a persecuted person whom He did not defend, or a needy person whose request He refused to grant.”
Daily Bread for the Heart
Human beings are intended to praise, compliment, and encourage with spoken words.
Too often reserve, silence, reluctance, or apathy fails to speak appropriate compliments when the situation requires speech or a person needs to hear the balm of kind words for encouragement and hope.
No one should be begrudging or selfish by the stinginess of words intended to be spent generously on others like money gladly given for purchasing gifts.
The book states a self-evident truth that the virtuous often overlook:
“God Himself so fashioned the human heart that it needs praise, for the same reason it dreads contempt . . . . Nobody is so completely and constantly self assured that he never requires a word of praise, a pat on the back or a kind suggestion . . . . Praise encourages; silence discourages.”
How often the pious neglect to compliment a priest for an inspiring, illuminating homily; how frequently guests overlook thanking the host in a personal way (for example, writing a thank you note); how often students fail to express appreciation for a class that filled their mind with wisdom or a course or teacher that inspired a profession; how often teachers or parents forget to praise the young for enriching their lives with joy, mirth, and liveliness.
Silence is an appropriate response to hostile arguments to avoid provocation and retaliation, but reserve is not kindness when compliments or praise are due or when the occasion justifies the spoken word.
Compliments should not be rare events because kindness is daily bread for the heart.
Be Willing to Compliment
The failure to offer words of encouragement, comfort, or compliment reveals a cold heart and an absence of charity.
Charity opposes apathy and insensibility. It takes an interest in the lives of others and, in St. Paul’s words, rejoices with those who rejoice or mourns with those who mourn.
Unwillingness to compliment others also reflects envy that begrudges the happiness or success of others. A jealous heart is an uncharitable heart.
The reluctance to praise also shows an ignorance of human nature and a lack of self-knowledge, an unawareness that “makes you imagine that your neighbor does his duty without effort or difficulty, so that he needs no encouragement.”
With honest realism Father Lovasik asks, “What if God also were to remain silent in the hour when you hope to hear from His lips the blessed praise: ‘Well done, good and faithful servant . . . enter into the joy of your master?”
Just as the Psalms offer songs of praise (“Praise the Lord, for the Lord is good”), epic poetry gives kudos to heroes (“Of arms and the man I sing” Virgil begins the Aeneid), and love poems bestow compliments upon the beloved (“She doth teach the torches to burn bright” Romeo says of Juliet), human speech too needs to lift up its voice to breathe inspiration and joy into the lives of others who, whether their work is famous or humble or whether their accomplishment is on a small or grand scale, have the same human need to hear kind works to cheer the heart, validate their efforts, and acknowledge their importance.
Christ did not merely do good deeds but also spoke gracious words. When He healed, he also spoke words like “Go, thy faith hath made thee well” and “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.”
When the woman of Bethany poured the costly jar of ointment over Christ’s head, He said, “She has done a beautiful thing to me.”
Every time a person performs works of mercy, Christ offers the greatest of compliments: “Truly, even as you have done it to the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.”
Do you know of a moment when a kind word from someone spared hurting people’s feelings, or saved a situation from going horribly wrong?