Friday, February 8, 2013
Try a Little Tenderness
Try a Little Tenderness
Otis Redding’s music still gives me goose pimples. His advice to “Try a Little Tenderness” was aimed at a man who didn’t understand the complexity or depth of his woman’s emotions. The wisdom in the lyrics reveals a profound truth that no matter what life situation is presented, the application of kindness is the best response.
To support the broad conclusion above I would ask you to spend a few minutes exploring the evidence for this incontrovertible principle.
My wife and I teach a class on the major world religions. What usually impresses our students is that many features of these diverse religions seem to be universal. The virtue of kindness is obviously extolled around the world.
Hinduism is the oldest of the world religions. One of Hinduism’s oldest proverbs is “Help your neighbor’s boat across, and lo! your own has reached the shore.” And, “What use is a melody in an unmusical song? What use are eyes which express no kindness? Other than a facial appearance, what do eyes with no quality of kindness really do? A kindly look is the ornament of the eyes. Without kindness the eyes are two unsightly sores.” Tirukkural 58: 573-575
The ancient Jews taught that a person should not harvest the corners of their field. The corners are left for the gleaners who have no field. Kindness even extends to the animal kingdom in the symbolic prohibition to not boil a young goat in its mother’s milk.
Buddhism was started by a man who carried the title “The Compassionate Buddha.” In modern times the Dali Lama was asked if he could explain his religion to the American public in a simple way that everyone could understand. His reply was a classic summary of all religious thinking; “My religion is kindness” he said, and then chuckled. I can’t help but like world religious leaders who laugh!
Christ taught that we all have a sacred obligation to practice a personal discipline of kindness. Christians are commanded to be kind to people who don’t deserve it, as a practice of their own faith. We are kind to others because that is in our Christ nature, and it has nothing to do with other’s behavior. Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. I John 4:7-8. And from Albert Schweitzer, one of the most articulate Christian advocates of modern times: “Constant kindness can accomplish much. As the sun makes ice melt, kindness causes misunderstanding, mistrust, and hostility to evaporate.”
Islam, the newest of the world religions, echoes the teaching found around the world, “God is gentle, and loves gentleness in all matters.” – Prophet Muhammad (as reported in Bukhari.) "Kindness is a mark of faith, and whoever is not kind has no faith."
And so as not to be unkind to the philosophers by leaving them out of this discussion, Plato offered this advice, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”
In the 20th century ethicists took on the issue of defining the fundamental principles of ethical behavior. The first stage of this investigation concluded that making up rules for ethical behavior doesn’t work. For instance, if a person named Bob Smith seeks protection by coming to your home, and a dangerous person knocks on your door and asks, “Is Bob Smith here?” do you tell the truth, or lie?
Given this obvious shortcoming of rule making, the first thing the ethicists came up with was situational ethics, or moral relativism. This doesn’t work either. Ethics become weak, and morality suffers in such a wishy-washy matrix. Unfortunately, many people are stuck in this ill-defined morass.
What was needed was a well defined principle; and I’ll bet you can guess that the ethicists eventually came up with; “What is the kindest thing to do?”
Gandhi encountered a situation that required kindness during Hindu/Muslim rioting in India.
Nahari: I'm going to Hell! I killed a child! I smashed his head against a wall.
Nahari: Because they killed my son! The Muslims killed my son!
Gandhi: I know a way out of Hell. Find a child, a child whose mother and father were killed and raise him as your own. Only be sure that he is a Muslim, and that you raise him as one.
If you would like to see this scene from the movie “Gandhi” go to: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G0RZLseVx8E
Rev. Samuel Sewell, President
The Theological Center in Naples