One day, I was surprised when one of our friends — a brilliant and highly accomplished man — said, out of the blue, “When I die, if there’s one thing I want people to say about me, it’s that I was kind.”
There was dead silence around the table. All of us were caught by surprise, I guess.
Because with all the things that this man had already accomplished, there was certainly a very long list of plaudits that could be said about him. Yet he just wanted to be known as “kind”. Just kind.
Even a poor person can be kind. Even a child can be kind. Even a disabled person can be kind. It takes no extraordinary skill to be kind. Yet this extraordinary man’s dream was to be known, and remembered, as a kind man. That extraordinary moment didn’t lose its value on me — dense as I was, young as I was then.
With all his accomplishments and multimillions, this man didn’t want to be immortalized as an Optimus Prime in his field, nor a Megatron who annihilated everyone in its path.
Everything he had achieved thus far was huge. But he chose a small, simple adjective that he wanted to be known as: Kind.
Kindness is a currency of love. It’s a close sibling of compassion. In Christian circles, kindness is a fruit of the Spirit. In a cut-throat corporate jungle, kindness is weakness. In families where cruelty and meanness is normal, kindness is abused and exploited.
Just like love, kindness can be faked. But it never fails to come out, strong and true, when it’s genuine. Many people know the definition of kindness. But not many know how to show it.
When someone does something wrong, especially when we feel personally offended — are we quick to crucify that person, berate him in public or in front of others, slap penalties or demand an apology?
Feeling that we were wronged, or thinking that we are right, doesn’t give us license to be exacting and unkind. I think this is one of the edgiest tests of our kindness: when we are wronged, maligned, or grossly betrayed. How do we respond? With venom? Or with kindness? Is our first impulse to lash back and try to damage the wrongdoer/s?
The biggest danger here is if we are in authority. If we have the power and influence to crush anyone who wrongs us. It’s easier for us to exact revenge — in the guise of righteousness and justice — just because we have the power to do it.
My advice: don’t. Don’t lash back. Don’t rip off your pound of flesh just because you can.
The temptation to banish or punish or ostracize an underling is obviously great. Don’t give in to it. Use your power to be kind. To understand the wrongdoer. To find out what’s going on. To help the person regroup and transform, if possible.
I saw kindness extended in this most unexpected way. A powerful boss was maligned by a subordinate. It was reported to him by other staff who made it their business to be their boss’s “eyes and ears”. Whether there was malice in the reports made, we didn’t know. But we all watched and waited — to see the fury of our boss unleashed. You know. Release the Kraken.
Well, days went by. Nothing. We were expecting our colleague to pack up immediately and be deported to Siberia — a department that we considered our very own corporate limbo.
But our direst expectations never happened. There was no public shaming, no deportation, no underhanded, sneaky demotion or loss of privileges — none whatsoever of the blood-curdling things we expected for a blunder of such proportions.
Instead, what we saw was an act of extreme grace. Pure, unadulterated grace. Our colleague was apparently invited by our boss to a private, one-on-one dinner. No one knows what transpired there. But what we knew was what we saw after that dinner: a boss who didn’t throw darts or make innuendos at meetings. A boss who just focused on the work to be done. He didn’t rant. He didn’t make a show of his fury and power. He didn’t display his wrath. What he showed was kindness.