I wrote last week about understanding the pain of others in order to treat them with absolute kindness. I’m going to continue on a similar note today, specifically as kindness relates to being a true disciple of Christ.
The great commandment that the Savior had for his disciples was love, both for God and our brothers and sisters on earth, which he reiterated the eve of his crucifixion:
"A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another." (John 13:34-35)
“As I have loved you” is important to remember, because it’s not just any love that will do the trick so far as the Savior is concerned, but his love. The prophet Moroni explains this love as charity, Christ’s pure love, and tells us that
"Charity suffereth long, and is kind, and envieth not, and is not puffed up, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil, and rejoiceth not in iniquity but rejoiceth in the truth, beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things." (Moroni 7:45)
For everything else that charity is, it is kind. But kindness is not a single act, nor merely being generous, considerate, or friendly most of the time because we know we should; rather, kindness is a disposition that needs to become a natural part of who we are.
Mother Teresa was one of the great examples of pure goodness in our day and age, encompassing so much of what it means to be kind. She once remarked, “Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier. Be the living expression of God’s kindness: kindness in your face, kindness in your eyes, kindness in your smile.”
Part of becoming a disciple of Christ is changing our natures to become like his. This challenge is even more difficult when considering the place that kindness has in society and the way we are reasonably expected to react to the world around us.
Psychologist Adam Philips and historian Barbara Taylor describe this struggle in their book On Kindness. Kindness, they explain, creates a natural vulnerability to others that goes against our instincts to protect ourselves, compete, and survive. We are encouraged to be cynics, to not let people in unless we really want or need to. Opposite to this is kindness, which they describe as “open-heartedness, the sympathetic expansiveness of linking self to other” (page 7).
We live in a day where independence and privacy are valued, where people struggle to connect with each other and instead put up walls. We still value kindness as a society, but it is treated nowadays as an exception rather than a rule of life. When someone does something kind, extraordinarily or simply, it often goes viral as we spread it with cheers and glee, as though in praising it we feel better about the times when we aren’t kind.
When someone does something good, people tend to say that their “faith in humanity” is restored. It’s often said in jest, but there is something behind the statement as well. We tend to see others as preoccupied busybodies who sometimes do good things instead of good beings who sometimes do bad things. We aren’t patient with others and often make judgments about them, about what they’re going to say, and about how we will feel about it instead of stopping to listen, think, and be compassionate.
When the Savior commands his disciples to love each other, he ends with saying, “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” Jesus had asked his followers to go out and spread the good news of his resurrection and atonement, but also wanted them to live the gospel, to be kind as he was.
"Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven." (Matthew 5:14-6)
Mark Twain wrote, “Kindness is a language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.”
Think about that phrase for a moment. Genuine kindness is so powerful that its effect on others gets through barriers that nothing else can. The blind see and the deaf hear. Sounds miraculous, and that’s what the Savior wants us to be in the lives of others. He wants us to be openhearted, to let ourselves connect to those around us instead of creating barriers.
Kindness is how we break down the walls of others, by being genuinely caring. It can be hard to cultivate that quality within ourselves, but it will make our lives better along with those we interact with. That is what the Savior wants from us as disciples, to make the world around us better, and kindness helps make that happen.