Depending on the Kindness of Strangers

In Tennessee Williams’s 1947 Play, “A Streetcar Named Desire,” a lead character, Blanch DuBois. says “I have always depended upon the kindness of strangers.” But, of course, these strangers were neither kind nor dependable. 

What if kindness was what it’s supposed to be? Here are some of the big beautiful words used to define it: respect, benevolence; beneficence of action or manner. Kindness is generosity, an action from the heart. Tennessee Williams made clear the travesty of the use of that word in his play.

Kindness is not easy. To offer gifts from our heart, we must know what we can offer and give from that place. Done properly, being kind does not use us up, it fills us up. A sweet action of kindness can fill another as well. Kindness is an essential building block of Peacemaking.

While Kindness isn’t easy, it costs no more than we have to offer and it returns so much. If, in walking into work along a long corridor, I focus on being kind, open, and smiling, I encounter people’s joy in being seen. Their smiling fills me up. I arrive at the office joyful and ready to be an effective chaplain. 

We get scared — and fear is a jagged emotion, causing us to act out with fear-sharpened words and actions. What if we released that and recognized that living in fear creates more violence and hatred in this world. People declare “I can’t do anything about the war in (fill in the blanks).” That’s probably true but we can be kind here. We can be kind now.

Kindness and Peacemaking are practices. As with any skill, we start our practice with little steps: little blessings of kindness; little invitations of Peacemaking. We may fail. However, we may be able to see what went wrong and how to improve. Then we can be bolder in our Kindness/Peacemaking trials.

We actually have no idea what focusing on true kindness, true invitation to Peace, can do in this world. We know what hate does. It’s evident everywhere. What if we did it differently? “Ha! Impossible!” Is it? Have we ever tried it anywhere? What doesn’t work? Hate. Hate offers us only brokenness and war. Together, let us make Kindness and Peacemaking something we can all depend on.

We are far more powerful than we believe. It costs nothing to be kind. It costs our world Love and Peace when we are not. We can thwart hatred.

This country’s sweetest philosopher, Mr. Rogers, taught us about kindness throughout his entire career. He was a Peacemaker. We can apply what we learned from him to our work in the world. Take in his words, “As human beings, our job in life is to help people realize how rare and valuable each one of us really is, that each of us has something that no one else has or ever will have, something inside that is unique to all time. It’s our job to encourage each other to discover that uniqueness and to provide ways of developing its expression.”

These aren’t simply words for children. These are words for each of us to absorb and live into. If we examine the hotspots in our world right now, we’ll see a rehashing of ancient differences. We could make the decision to act differently, to act kindly: to act kindly to ourselves, to our loved ones, to our community and on out into the world. Create possibilities for Kindness and Peace to do their work. Allow kindness to become our expectation of ourselves and each other. In this way we can each, kindly, set health, happiness, Joy and Justice free in the world. 

Kindness isn’t a random act such as buying an overpriced coffee for someone. It’s a daily expectation of yourself for no other reason other than the Joy you experience sowing seeds of Peace and Possibility.

If we want a world to grow into, kindness will have to be our choice. A.J. Muste reminded us, “there is no way to Peace, Peace is the way.” You, my dear, kind friends are Peacemakers. You are the way.

Salaam, Shalom, Peace, Blessed be.