This is another chapter from our upcoming book, The Pineywoods Manifesto.
Kindness: a language the blind can see and the deaf can hear.
Always be kinder than necessary.
It’s a trait that both blesses the receiver and the giver.
It leaves both with a spring in their step.
All of my life, I’ve been the recipient of so much grace and kindness. The old Dry Creek I grew up in was awash in kindness. It wasn’t a perfect place, but older folks always showed me kindness.
I’m sure it was partly due to my family’s deep roots in the community, but Clayton and Mary Iles’ son was always treated kindly. In a rural community where we called most every older person uncle and aunt, I received kindness from these folks.
As I began branching out from Dry Creek, I still encountered kindness, often in unexpected places. I learned that those with the least in worldly goods often showed the most kindness to others.
The twin hurricanes of Katrina and Rita in 2005 brought out the best and worst in my home state of Louisiana. I came to believe that disasters and tragedy don’t create character, it simply reveals it. What is inside a person comes pouring out just like the water that rushed through the 16th Street Canal levee breach in New Orleans.
Dry Creek Baptist Camp, where I served as manager, became a hurricane shelter for a revolving door of about three hundred evacuees for the weeks after Katrina. They came from all walks of life, each with a different story of how they ended up in our rural piney woods community.
Our surrounding area responded to this invasion, not with resistance, but with kindness. I’ll never forget a precious couple, who had recently lost a teenage son, counting out thirty one-hundred dollar bills and saying, “You use this to help these people and do it in memory of Ethan.”
I had no words to say and even now am moved by the remembrance of this event.
When sister Hurricane Rita hit us squarely in late September, I saw amazing kindliness among my neighbors. Everyone got up from the storm, brushed off, and went to work helping each other.
Real kindness costs something. It is giving freely but costs the giver time, money, or maybe inconvenience. But it is such a freeing event.
However, it seems natural to be kind to neighbors.
Kindness to strangers is what most amazes me. I saw it after the hurricanes, even as I stood in a Red Cross food line receiving a hot meal cooked by fellow Baptists who’d come to our aid in SW Louisiana.
Our three-year sojourn in Africa opened my eyes to this kindness to strangers. Once again, DeDe and I saw the best and worst in people. We were thrust into a civil war in South Sudan and saw the ignorance of tribalism and greed.
At the same time, we saw such kindness. Nowhere was this more evident than along the borders of South Sudan where thousands of refugees fled. I asked a Ugandan as to why they so easily opened their hearts to these strangers. He smiled. “Baba, we’ve all been refugees ourselves at one time or another. How could we not return the kindness shown to us in the past?”
I saw kindness shown in hundreds of unique ways. Most were simple, but life-changing. Most involved sacrifice on the part of the giver. Africans have few material possessions, but I never ceased at the wonder of those who had so little, showing such kindness.
A final word on kindness.
It is not weakness.
The world will often scoff at proffered kindness as naive.
I believe kindness is one of life’s greatest assets. It’s an investment that as you give it away, it only grows inside you.
Always be kind, and always be kinder than necessary.