Sharing Kindness

by guest worship leaders Nadine Sapirman and Louis Sapirman

Please visit our YouTube channel to watch the video recording of this reflection.

The Kindness of Individuals (Nadine)

What is kindness? You usually know it when you see, feel, smell, taste, or touch it. Kindness is defined as the quality of being friendly, generous, and considerate. True… but that doesn’t get to the meaning of kindness and its impact

Acts of kindness are inspired by empathy, compassion, thoughtfulness, gentleness, or acceptance. They are intentional actions—large and small—that recognize a connection between people or beings… without expecting anything in return. Kindness comes naturally, from the heart. 

Sometimes they require courage or strength but often take no significant effort at all!

What does kindness look like?

  • Someone drops a coin; you pick it up for them.  
  • You hold a door open for someone entering or exiting a building.  
  • A person shovels snow for her neighbor.   
  • A smile, a wave when walking in your neighborhood 
  • You get a feeling of kindness when the person you are talking to looks you in the eye and gives you their full attention; something that simple can be profound. 

What does kindness smell like?

  • a flower given to a loved one or a friend… just because.  
  • a favorite food being prepared to acknowledge a special occasion

What does kindness taste like?

  • a cup of coffee or tea prepared by your partner; 
  • a loaf of bread made with love; 
  • a meal delivered by a member of the UUCSH Caring Committee when someone is in need;
  • baked goods brought to a new neighbor to welcome them to the neighborhood; 
  • vegetables shared by a friend from his garden

What does kindness sound like?

  • A simple friendly “hello” to someone you pass on a walk
  • “How can I help?”  “What can I do for you?”  “Do you need to talk?; I’m here to listen.” “Please tell me about your day.”   These words are magical in my world.  Hearing them always brings a smile to my face! 

What does kindness feel like?

  • In this global pandemic, many of us wish we could have more touch…  
  • Imagine what the touch of kindness feels like… a gentle touch on the arm from one who cares; holding of hands; a hug from a family member or friend… helping a child with a cut or a scrape… someone scratching an itch on your back that you can’t reach yourself 

Most of these expressions of kindness are free, quick and easy.

You never know how a small act of kindness can affect someone. It might brighten someone’s day, change their outlook, simply put a smile on their face and improve their mood; it could change their life. Acts of kindness have a ripple effect. You sharing kindness towards someone might make them more likely to extend kindness to others. And, acting in a kind way has been scientifically proven to benefit your own well-being by releasing oxytocin in the brain. Benefits abound!

In the book The Little Pocket Book of Kindness, by Lois Blyth, kindness is described as an “energy exchange. The person you are kind to may not be able to reciprocate directly to you, but the joy of it is they may be more motivated to give, and be kind, to others.”  

The children’s book Wonder by R.J. Palacio from 2012 is about a fifth-grade boy, Auggie Pullman, with an “extra-ordinary face.” Some people would say his face is misshapen. He faces many challenges throughout his school year, including being made fun of and ostracized by classmates. In the end, he turns out to be an inspiration for kindness in the school. The book was made into a motion picture, and sparked a movement to #choosekind. It doesn’t take long to find kindness-themed websites that serve to motivate people to act in kind ways more often. 

Kindness is a virtue, and recognized as a value in many cultures and religions. The Buddhist monk the Dalai Lama speaks about kindness in ways that are both simple and very profound. The following three statements from the Dalai Lama align very well with our UU principles: 

  • “If we remember that others too are human beings like us, we can extend a sense of kindness even towards those we think of as enemies.”
  • “This is my simple religion. There is no need for temples; no need for complicated philosophy. Our own brain, our own heart is our temple; the philosophy is kindness.”
  • “Whether one believes in a religion or not and whether one believes in rebirth or not… there isn’t anyone who doesn’t appreciate kindness and compassion.”

Our first Unitarian Universalist principle affirms “the inherent worth and dignity of every person.” Expressions of kindness… sharing kindness—towards loved ones, acquaintances, and those we don’t know—is an important way to affirm people’s worth and dignity. Doing so relates to our seventh UU principle; we are, indeed, all connected! 

Collective Kindness (Louis)

“To enrich our lives and the lives of those around us”; “leadership, friendship and service, bound by a single tie”; “inherent worth and dignity”; “the interdependent web of all existence”; “neighbors helping neighbors”; “contribution to society.”

Some of these phrases, statements, slogans and values, you may recognize; some you may not. Each of them makes up an important part of who I am, not because they are my own words, but rather they are words from some of the organizations, entities, and relationships that have been so important in shaping who I am. Important in kindling the spirit of kindness in ways big and small that I could not possibly do by myself.

Our seven UU principles—I have been a UU for well more than half my life, and our UU principles were very much a part of who I was before Nadine and I ever stepped foot in The Unitarian Society in East Brunswick in 1992. Our seven principles, the collective values upon which we all stand firm, speak to the importance of our faith seeing the world with kindness in our eyes.

The Giving Network, our beloved arm of outreach into the community, “Neighbors helping neighbors.” You see, The Giving Network was founded on doing for strangers acts of kindness that can be life changing in nature. The Giving Network creates a direct link between our volunteers and the Somerset County community we serve, bringing gently used home goods and furniture to those in need. We do not judge that need; rather we serve all those who believe they are in need of help. But no one Giving Network volunteer can do this work alone. Although I have hauled many individual pieces of furniture by myself, it is the “van crew,” “the bread run crew,” the “sorting center crew” that makes the magic of the Giving Network tick. The most profound moments of kindness I have felt in my life have come shortly after parking a van full of furniture in a driveway or on a street I had never been to before and meeting someone in need for the first time. And I am grateful not only for the opportunity to make these moments of kindness a reality, but also for the many others who work together to bring the spirit of kindness to life through this work.

Alpha Phi Omega, a national service fraternity with hundreds of thousands of members, provided Nadine and me an outlet and organization through college and beyond to do good. Good for our community, for our colleges, for the larger society. Being “bound by a single tie” with the members of APO around the country and the world has allowed us to be a part of some of the most wonderful and meaningful service projects providing help to those in need.

I chose to begin working with Panasonic Corporation almost two years ago. Panasonic’s founder Konosuke Matstushita crafted a company that has been around now for over 102 years. He wrote the company’s seven business principles in the 1930s. The first of these is “Contribution to Society.” You see, if you are not going to do something good for the world, why do it? It is this vision that drew me to work at Panasonic and it is the hope and vision represented in our founder’s values which allow me to lead with kindness in everything I do at Panasonic.

That brings me to the initial statement I started with: “To enrich our lives and the lives of those around us.” I am betting few of you know the origin of this statement. You see, it originates from the relationship that has most helped shape the person I am today and has guided me to see kindness as not simply a nice to have, but an intrinsic part of my way of life. These words are excerpted from the vows Nadine and I wrote for each other for our wedding day. We vowed to “greet each day with a smile and an open heart” and for more than 27 years, we remind each other of our vows each year on our anniversary and seek to make them a part of who we are every day.

“It is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness.” This quote has been attributed to many, including Eleanor Roosevelt, but in my research, it seems it may have come originally from a Methodist Minister, William Watkinson, at the turn of the twentieth century. If you look in the Tottenville High School Yearbook from 1987, you would see this quote beneath the photo of a much younger version of myself. It had been a flame inside me from a very young age. And yet with years comes—we hope—deeper thought, greater learning. Nowadays, I often do not think of the one candle, but rather the power to be so much more, when we join our candles together. It may be essential to light one candle to start a flame, but I now believe it can be geometrically more effective when we link our flames. It is not one candle we light together, but rather it is bonfires of kindness, of love, that we can set ablaze. As we consider the meaning of sharing kindness and the simple acts of kindness that can and should be a part of everyday life, I want you to step back and imagine the power of harnessing the smiles of hundreds, the helping hands of thousands, the hearts of millions. We can and should add light to another person’s day. Just so, we can and should find ways to work together to transform the world through our collective kindness.

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