12 Days of Kindness
Ask someone about nobility and several answers will be commonly given – regal, majestic, rich, entitled (both actually possessing a title and feeling better than others). Some might even go one step further and start describing coronations, rituals involving the nobility, or perhaps the acknowledgement given to those in the nobility with their titles, curtsies, and bows.
What you do not expect and will seldom hear are descriptions of the nobility standing shoulder to shoulder with the poor or outcast. We picture large castles for the nobility, not simple lean-to huts. We imagine the nobility wearing the finest and latest fashion designers and not the worn-out jeans or the homeless.
This Christmas my blog posts will not follow the Twelve Days of Christmas nor will I select a nondescript, politically correct topic. I am indulging in the twelve days that fall between Dec 25th and January 6th. Between mid-November and the second week in January there are roughly twenty-seven, 27, holidays celebrated worldwide. For many, these next eight days mark Kwanza, a holiday time of community and family with no specific religious connotation or affiliation. Kwanza is a great holiday, as are the other 27 but I would like to start a new one – the Twelve Days of Kindness.
Most of these twenty-seven holidays are not about self…well, not directly. They reference our individual growth and personal peace by celebrating people, events, and beliefs that all speak to our connectedness. If you are new to this blog, welcome. If you are a seasoned reader, then thank you. Your reading this connects us and strengthens the ties that truly unite us all. Reading, though, does not get our living done.
We all believe in something. Just believing does us nothing, though. We have to put that belief in action and every good belief involves at least one other person. Last night people worldwide celebrated the birth of the man known as Jesus of Nazareth. Regardless of what you believe. Chances are you saw a celebration, went to a party, gave or received gifts. Christmas is pretty hard to escape.
Historically and archaeologically, there is more evidence of this man’s existence than evidence he did not live. For many it is unrealistic to think the baby that people would believe was the son of the Creator would be born in such a humble manner. The “King of Kings” as this baby would grow up to be called would have needed a noble birth.
It was somewhere during the 1580’s that the English word nobility became spoken. An anglicized form of the French “généreux” (14c.), which is derived from the Latin “generosus”, the word generous translates as “noble birth.” Thus a generous person was someone born into the nobility. Surprised?
Today the word generous is an adjective but it doesn’t just mean someone who gives to others. It literally means someone who gives to others without expecting anything in return. That bears repeating – It literally means someone who gives to another and expects nothing in return. Nothing. Nada. Nil. Zero. So when we give to a charity or drop some coins into a bell-ringers bucket, we should get nothing in return, not even a sense of “well done, self!”
I confess that when I help others, I help myself. Usually I am not really thinking about that but, in retrospect, I realize that I have probably received twice as much as I have given. I was taught the habit of generosity through seeing such in the actions of my parents and others. For some, their giving was more about making themselves feel good, however. They really gave very little thought to those who would receive their giving. Many of us are like that.
When I was nine years old, a dear family friend gave me a most unusual Christmas present. She gifted me the sponsorship of an orphan on the other side of the globe. She paid the monthly sponsorship fee but it was my name on the paperwork and I was the one who received the monthly updates on the boy who lived in deplorable conditions due to the political nature of his home country. While others were playing with roller skates, I was reading about how the sponsorship fee had helped dig a well so the village could have safe water to drink and for other uses.
The next year this friend continued the sponsorship and it was with tears in my eyes that I heard my parents complain to her. The three adults agreed that this would be the last year of the sponsorship and, true to her promise, the next year the friend gave me a book. I still have that book but I also still have the spirit of awareness that was the real gift those two years. Her gift made me realize the nobility of each birth, the awareness of not only how lucky I was in my own life but how similar that child was to me. She gave me the gift of connectedness to my spirit within and the world around me.
Oscar Wilde once wrote “The smallest act of kindness is worth more than the grandest intention.” I am blessed with friends who follow through on their beliefs by giving to others. There is always a need, nonetheless, for us to do more. There are times in which we think we cannot give anything else. Maybe our own lives are in chaos; maybe we are the ones in need. We all have something to offer, though, and in that offering, we often find something greater, something we might not have known we needed.
“Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.” Leo Buscaglia was speaking about doing for others but it works for us as well. And so, on these twelve days of Christmas, I ask that you not only read but act. I ask that you spread a little kindness each day, living out one aspect of kindness.
I challenge you today to smile at a stranger. It will cost you nothing and if you wear a head covering that prevents someone from seeing your smile, then live that smile – let someone go in front of you through the door or marketplace walkway. Live the nobility of your own birth and presence by being generous.
Perhaps you have some old clothing that you could pass on to someone in need. Maybe you could advocate for animals or donate an extra box of rice or bag of beans to a food pantry in your area. These are all great acts of generosity, our characteristic for today, and all are very needed. However, my challenge for you costs nothing – simply share a smile with a stranger. If you can do more, then please do so. First, simply share a smile.
Regardless of who we are or where we live, we are connected. We share a planet. We share basic characteristics of being human. Hopefully, in these twelve days we will share kindness. This is not a new idea. The Roman Seneca once said “Wherever there is a human being, there is an opportunity for a kindness.” In this the 21st century, we might have lost sight of that just a little. We seem more interested in what separates us then it the ties that unite us.
Much is spoken and wars are carried out because of those difference. There is no real number for the varieties of religions that are practiced on the planet today; the numbers keep changing as religions are overtaken by extremists. The 14th Dalai Lama, the man known as Tenzin Gyatso once wrote: “My religion is very simple. My religion is kindness.” Regardless of what you call your religion, today I hope you share a smile. Trust me, you will get at least one in return. J