“Be kind to one another, tenderhearted…” (Ephesians 4:32)
In his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Steven Covey tells this story:
“I remember…one Sunday morning on a subway in New York. People were sitting quietly—some reading newspapers, some lost in thought, some resting with their eyes closed. It was a calm, peaceful scene. Suddenly, a man and his children entered the subway car. The children were so loud and rambunctious that instantly the whole climate changed.
“The man sat down next to me and closed his eyes, apparently oblivious to the situation. The children were yelling back and forth, throwing things, even grabbing people’s papers. It was very disturbing. And yet, the man sitting next to me did nothing.
“It was difficult not to feel irritated. I could not believe he could be so insensitive to let his children run wild like that and do nothing about it, taking no responsibility at all. It was easy to see that everyone else on the subway felt irritated, too. So finally, with what I felt was unusual…restraint, I turned to him and said, “Sir, your children are really disturbing a lot of people. I wonder if you couldn’t control them a little more?
“The man lifted his gaze as if to come to a consciousness of the situation for the first time and said softly, ‘Oh, you’re right. I guess I should do something about it. We just came from the hospital where their mother died about an hour ago. I don’t know what to think, and I guess they don’t know how to handle it either.’
“Can you imagine what I felt at that moment? Suddenly I saw things differently, I felt differently, I behaved differently. My irritation vanished. I didn’t have to worry about controlling my attitude or my behavior; my heart was filled with the man’s pain. Feelings of sympathy and compassion flowed freely. ‘Your wife just died? Oh, I’m so sorry. Can you tell me about it? What can I do to help?’ Everything changed in an instant.”
When Covey heard the man on the subway’s story, his focus changed from his own issues (being disturbed by irritating, unruly children) to the man’s issues (the loss of his wife). Because Covey’s focus shifted from “me” to “you,” his response moved from irritation to kindness.
The man on the subway isn’t alone. The truth is, almost everyone is dealing with something. Everyone can use some kindness in their life. There’s plenty of meanness in the world without adding to it. If we can’t do or say something kind, it’s better to do or say nothing. But best of all is to be intentionally kind in our words and our actions.
Dear heavenly Father, I realize that kindness is a fruit of the Holy Spirit and needs to be part of my life. Open my eyes to times when the things I do or say are mean or hurtful to others. Change my focus from looking at my own issues to thinking of others. Help me recognize opportunities to treat others with kindness, and then to take advantage of those opportunities. I know the world is better when it is filled with kind people. Let me be a person who makes the world a kinder place. In Jesus’s name, amen.