Thoughtful Kindness?

Bumper stickers. Now that’s free speech. Which I love. But that doesn’t mean I love all bumper stickers. Sure, some are cute, funny, occasionally brilliant. Others are just crude.

But my least favorite bumper sticker might surprise you. The bumper strip that ticks me off the most reads:

“Practice Random Acts Of Kindness And Senseless Acts Of Beauty.”

Now, most folks who put this one on their car are nice. They’re thinking about “kindness” and “beauty” — so, I’m certainly not gonna say anything if I see them at the market.

But . . . why waste kindness by doing it randomly? The random implies heedlessness, thoughtlessness. How much better to be provident in kindness, thinking ahead and in context.

Should the purse-snatcher really benefit as much or more from our kindness as the little girl in the neighborhood who is always helping us with our groceries?

Should our lazy, good-for-nothing brother-in-law get what time we have for kindness or should it go to someone who will take our kindness and turn it around into even more kindness?

Now, I’m not suggesting anyone be unkind to anyone. But precisely because practicing kindness is so important — it’s the glue that holds a friendly society together — it is worth taking the time to recognize and reward good behavior. Rather than bad. Or just sticking the dial on “random.”

And how can beauty ever be senseless?

How about a new bumper sticker: “Practice Thoughtful Acts of Kindness and Sensible Acts of Beauty”?

Happy New Year!

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

This installment of Common Sense first aired in November 2006.

11 Comments so far ↓

  1. Dec
    31
    9:48
    AM
    Emily

    I disagree. I think it’s important to bestow kindness on people regardless – even in spite of – how they’ve treated you. I think kindness is not “a reward” you give to someone, but a way of living you should practice as often as you can.

  2. Dec
    31
    10:40
    AM
    Dan Rogers

    “But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them. Luke 6:27-31

  3. Dec
    31
    11:57
    AM
    Paul Jacob

    Emily — I agree with you to the extent we’re talking about treating people with kindness. Indeed, you are correct, we should be kind to everyone, even those not kind to us. But that still doesn’t mean that our “acts of kindness” should be “random.”

    I think we should apply kindness universally in terms of treating people with kindness. But I think when we go out of our way to do something nice for someone(s) — not stuff like opening the door or helping someone pick up something up that they dropped or letting some car in your lane during a traffic jam, but more significant acts — we should be thoughtful. We should look for how our actions can reward good behavior and not bad.

  4. Dec
    31
    1:42
    PM
    Rob

    The quandary caused by the clash between societal and religious ways is never more evident then how we perceive the intent of the bumper sticker you mention.
    To what extent do we take the intention, as Emily and Dan have offered, before we enable the wanton, the lazy or opportunistic?

    Or the converse, as you, Paul have described, do we measure our acts of kindness with the possibility to be perceived as selfish or mean-spirited.

    Should kindness be a measure of justice. In religion, no. Kindness (or charity) should be offered to those less fortunate and in need due to events or actions not of their own doing.

    But in a modern society in our day-to-day lives, I agree with you, Paul. Kindness in all of its manifestations should be earned.

  5. Dec
    31
    4:38
    PM
    James Dixon

    Emily is correct, Paul. Kindness is an attitude that permeates one’s being. It is an extremely rare quality that defines who that person is. To be cognitively aware of who is to be the object of our kindness and to act selectively will, ultimately, destroy the spirit of kindness;that very spirit that defines one’s nature. It is, in essence, a repudiation of the self.

    You seem to define kindness in terms of its effect on those with whom one shares the spirit of kindness rather than looking at the effect on the “giver”. For the “giver”, each act of kindness is a reinforcement of the self.

    When you say “we should look for how our actions can reward good behavior and not bad”, you assume that one can know, with certainty, what effect our actions will have on the other person. In truth the “random” acts of kindness can have a salutary effect on those who exhibit “bad” behavior. A smile, a handshake, a warm greeting always has a non-quantifiable impact on the recipient.

    For the past ten years, I have been conducting a little “experiment”. When a clerk says to me “have a nice day”. I turn, smile and say “have a good life”. Invariably, the recipient giggles. Why?

    Jim Dixon

  6. Dec
    31
    5:03
    PM
    MingoV

    I think some of the commenters are confusing kindness with politeness. Politeness should not be random; it should be nearly universal.* People can learn to be polite such that it is automatic. Kindness is a big step beyond politeness. Kindness requires time, thought, effort, and often resources. The NYC policeman who bought sneakers for a barefoot homeless man performed an act of kindness. He thought about what to do, he spent time going to a store, he used his own money buy the sneakers, and he spent time to meet the man and give him the sneakers. Performing this type of act randomly is silly. Should the policeman have given sneakers to anyone he met?

    *I won’t be polite or kind to a guy who’s mugging me. Sorry, Emily, but being kind to villains reinforces villainous behavior.

    On a different note: There are people who practice random acts of beauty using colored chalk on sidewalks. They often get fined or arrested.

  7. Jan
    1
    1:35
    AM
    Joe

    scheeesh….lighten up!

    I think the saying “Giving back” is the most stupid and offensive…give what back? I didn’t “take” anything.

  8. Jan
    1
    10:29
    AM
    James Dixon

    Here’s a little “thought experiment” for MingoV. How many people might have seen this barefoot homeless man? How many people responded to his plight? How was the policeman to know whether or not this man was a drug addict or a mass murderer?

    I contend that it was the policeman’s nature to be kind that led him to recognize a “problem” and then to “solve” the problem by going through the necessary thought process that led to his solution. He certainly didn’t have to and clearly many other people actually avoided any interaction with the “homeless” man. The policeman CARED; the defining characteristic of kindness.

    Caring for the plight of one’s fellows is an emotional response not shared by many. I think most people are so insulated from reality, they fail to recognize how their behavior impacts Others. Moreover, they don’t CARE!

    Jim Dixon

  9. Jan
    1
    9:14
    PM
    Roger

    In a sense, “random” acts is a silly expression. Humans are logical beings and randomness is beyond our ability. The choice to be kind is anything but random. Having referred to human logic, I must now dispute its use above. Being generally kind is a character trait that will likely treat nearly everyone with kindness. An act of kindness is specific choice to go out of one’s way to do something kind. Usually it would be done for someone who’d gained our attention, but I don’t think of it as a reward. On occasion a person might see an act of kindness might have a positive effect on someone who is grumpy or rude; that, too, would be a valid choice. General kindness is a quality every believer ought to seek to develop. Specific acts of kindness are part of our tool box of goodness, of which the world could stand a good deal more!

  10. Jan
    2
    10:18
    AM
    James Dixon

    Roger, you assume too much when you say “humans are logical beings”. There are too many COUNTEREXAMPLES! As for randomness, LIFE is random beginning with conception. Try as we may to impose “order” in our lives, there is too much chaos; too many chance occurrences that “force” us out of our comfort zone. We tend to REACT to abrupt changes rather than taking the time to “rationalize” our choices. People seldom “think” their way through a day. If they did, they would be “efficiency experts”.

    Most of the rest of your post is, in my view, quite accurate. I quibble slightly when I say that the truly kind person does NOT have a choice to either be kind or not be kind

    Jim Dixon!

  11. Jan
    6
    4:17
    PM
    Susan Denny

    Paul’s well made point is to always act with kindness. Recognizing good in others is always kind. However, to stop and/or reject contrary behavior in others is also kind; to not do so, could even be considered unkind.

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