Presented on Zoom May 31st, 2020 Rev. Fiona Heath
Writer William James once said ‘Three things in human life are important. The first is to be kind. The second is to be kind. The third is to be kind.’
Kindness is one of those “easier said then done” virtues. A classic virtue that most might claim to aspire towards, but not right now in the grocery store with the person without a mask going the wrong way down the aisle.
It’s hard to be kind, to extend empathy to other people, to act with compassion when confronted in the moment with cruelty, thoughtlessness, arrogance and all the ways humans struggle.
Hundreds of years ago Buddhist farmers in Tibet would carry bags of pebbles – some light, some dark – around with them. When they thought well of others or helped someone they would put a light coloured pebble in their pocket. When they spoke cruelly or thought badly about another person they would put a dark coloured pebble in their pocket.
Each night they would turn out their pockets and usually the dark pebbles outnumbered the light pebbles.
And it’s probably true for most people most days – the dark pebbles outnumber the light. We all struggle with our interactions with others. And it’s not surprising, this culture doesn’t value kindness as much as we like to think.
Ellen may tell us all to be kind, but look at who succeeds.
Heroes in movies aren’t kind – they are risk taking, tough, arrogant, difficult. Neither do CEOs or politicians get much support for being kind, they succeed being bold, strong willed, ambitious.
We don’t live in a society based in kindness, our systems are shaped by economic norms, financial profits, and a focus on productivity, growth and competition.
It’s so rare that acts of kindness often become national news.
Which turns kindness into a kind of unicorn – a mythical beast only seen by the pure.
Unicorn kindness is that kindness that is effortless when the conditions are right – when we are stress free, content, have all the time we need and an abundance of resources.
Unicorn kindness can be either a comfort – that nirvana of a stress free life isn’t anything like my real life so I don’t need to consider kindness. Or it can be a source of guilt for those of us who don’t live up to that mythical beast of perfect kindness but feel like we really should.
Unicorn kindness doesn’t help us live as our imperfect selves with our imperfect lives in this imperfect society.
And I think kindness is more then just a virtue to be aspired to when the conditions are good. I believe kindness is essential to being Unitarian Universalist, that it serves as the base for meaning making for our imperfect selves with imperfect lives in imperfect societies.
Buddhist teacher Sharon Salzberg says “kindness can be a thread of meaning throughout our lives – as we learn how to be strong and still be kind, be smart and still be kind, … be profoundly kind to ourselves and at the same time strongly dedicated to kindness for those around us.”
I believe that kindness is a thread of meaning essential for guiding the people of the chalice through all the struggles and the joys of living, through this time of confusion and isolation.
We can learn kindness, we can set our intentions towards being kind. If we practice this, we will find more days where the light coloured pebbles outnumber the dark pebbles in our pockets.
Kindness can be a thread of meaning as we navigate this world with shifting rules and uncertain outcomes.
We don’t know yet how to manage this pandemic risk, no one does. We don’t know when or how or why restrictions will be lifted. Every necessary errand takes twice as long, wearing masks, waiting in lines, monitoring where others are. And we still can’t get our hair cut.
Some of us have now been alone for a very long time.
We are all living with some level of fear and stress and concern and frustration and irritation and anxiety about what the future will bring.
So go ahead, be kind.
It’s hard isn’t it? These are difficult times.
Which in the end makes kindness even more necessary. We know we are all – in some way – struggling. And as people of the chalice, kindness is the lived expression of the principles we hold dear. It’s compassion in action.
Kindness roots us in our first principle in which we affirm the inherent worth and dignity of every person.
Acts of kindness towards others demonstrate that we remember they have value and worth outside of any moment, even beyond any relationship. Each person has intrinsic worth and personal dignity. Everyone.
No exceptions for politicians. I told you it was tough.
Our ability to extend kindness to others is our affirmation of their worth and dignity.
Kindness also roots us in the seventh principle, the understanding of our interdependence. We are deeply connected to all other life on earth. The pandemic has shown us that. We are in this together.
I think of this kindness – the kindness that requires us to dig deep and take a deep breath and NOT say what we really wanted to say and instead take a moment – I think of this as dandelion kindness.
If you have seen almost any patch of grass this past week you know that dandelions are tenacious. Mow them down and they spring back up. Their roots go down, deep down, and you can rip out the stems, tear off the leaves, and with some time the dandelion will once more bloom a cheerful yellow.
Dandelion kindness – kindness that wells up in the face of all challenges – is what we need.
It does not mean we are going to be kind all the time in every moment – no unicorns here – it means we return, again and again, to kindness as our baseline.
This is a world shattering moment – we are being mowed down weekly by the impact of this shutdown. We are going to feel flattened and unkind. So we need our tenacious, resilient dandelion kindness more then ever.
Kindness can be a thread of meaning in our lives, that roots us deep deep in the good earth of our prinicples, that expresses itself in bright blossoming compassionate acts.
Imagine a city where kindness grew as easily as dandelions in the local park. Where we care for those in the community who are most vulnerable. Where we invest in health care and education and the arts. Where everyone has income and housing.
My great hope, and perhaps it is yours too, is that post pandemic we find a way to make kindness fundamental to the economy and society.
‘Three things in human life are important. The first is to be kind. The second is to be kind. The third is to be kind.’
May we all find our way to dandelion kindness, tenacious, resilient and deeply rooted in our principles.
So Say We All