When I think of being kind, I imagine I think first of helping old ladies cross the street, or picking up change that someone has dropped on the deli floor, or comforting a child with a skinned knee. I imagine washing the dishes so someone else doesn't have to, volunteering at a soup kitchen, or sending a note to a dear friend who's having a hard time.
Kindness brings up images of daisies and sunshine. It's delicate. Pretty. We're just being helpful. We perform "random acts of kindness." They're random. Almost unnecessary. They're sprinkles on top of the ice cream. Marshmallows in the hot chocolate.
Lately, I'm thinking differently: Kindness is big.
In the context of this blog, I focus my posts on Christianity, science & academia, and feminism. Why am I posting on kindness?
To Christians, kindness likely seems like a no-brainer. We are taught kindness is a fruit of the spirit. God shows "everlasting kindness" to us. We should be kind. But I think often, we are kind in the ways we think of kindness. I would like to challenge us to be kind in deeper ways. We must be kind when we defend our faith. We must be kind when we debate hot topics with those who believe differently than we do (both fellow Christians and those of other faiths or no faith).
As I read Jesus Feminist, I was struck by Bessey's kindness. As were some of her reviewers. Brian McLaren states, "I love writers who are insightful enough to be cynical but choose not to be." Carolyn Custis James adds, "Sarah Bessey makes her case-- not as a fire-breathing debater-- but as a woman utterly captivated by Jesus, who will stop at nothing to follow him."
What high praise! I want this said of me someday. Imagine being known for your sharp intellect and writing a book cutting to the heart of a controversial subject, of criticizing culture and subculture alike-- and having people see your love, kindness, and gentleness through it all? May we all be like this. Whatever your topic. Liberal or Conservative. Christian or Muslim or atheist or anything else. Whether your passion is breast feeding or vaccinating kids or climate change or educating future scientists. Imagine if you were also known for being kind. Imagine if your kindness could equal your passion. Together, those qualities just might change the world. May we all be salt and light, even when we are doing hard things and saying hard things. May others feel comfortable in our presence that they might have ears to listen to what we have to say.
In academia, we must be kind to our students. I think this is regarded as important in grade school, and once we get to university we sometimes forget. Personally, I remember college as one of the hardest times in my life. The adjustment to freshman year, taking too many credits, commuting, working while being a full time student, being lonely and building friendships. Falling in love and break ups. Endlessly thinking. Trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. My grandfather's open heart surgery. My grandmother's diagnosis of cancer. And then there were the classes.
My best teachers were both clever and kind. They pulled deeper ideas out of their students by supporting them. In my own teaching, this is precisely what I try to do. I do what I wish someone would have done for me. I do what some professors did do for me. I work with students' schedules as much as I can. I try to support the best work. And, in all honesty, I believe in my students. They notice. It comes back in thank-yous. It comes back in visits to my office. It comes back in my course evaluations. Requests for letters of recommendation. Facebook-friending and holiday cards. Some students have strong self-esteem and social support. Others don't. As teachers, we may not know the difference. We can choose to support all our students, to the best of our abilities. Sometimes, we will serve the "least of these." Other times, we may entertain angels.
As a grad student, this semester, I shared with a professor I'm working for Christine Miserandino's Spoon Theory as we were studying autoimmune diseases in class and she knew I had personal experience with this kind of illness. The professor wrote back saying that if she could help and I ever needed to borrow a spoon, to let her know. The past two days I've had excruciating pain. I sent my advisor an email apologizing for not having sent her work I was supposed to have sent 24 hours earlier and explained. I received an email back to not worry and "give yourself some time off." With that freedom, I slept nearly 11 hours and feel ready to do the work after this post.
Kindness is powerful. Kindness is healing. Kindness creates opportunities.