Kindness Withheld is Kindness Lost Forever

“It is not only for what we do that we are held responsible, but also for what we do not do.” (Moliere)

Attribution: Donna CameronLast week, I had the pleasure of speaking at a conference about kindness in business—its benefits to the workplace, to the bottom-line, and to both business owners and employees. It was a receptive group and we had a lot of fun (well, at least I did!). Afterward, a number of people came up to me to share their stories of kindness—kindnesses extended, kindnesses received, and kindnesses witnessed. There were stories of roadside assistance, found wallets, Starbucks’ gift cards, and neighborly sharing.

I was struck once again by a notion that is both obvious and subtle: Most acts of kindness are easy to do, but they’re also just as easy not to do.

It’s easy to dismiss the idea as either gobbledygook or a statement of the glaringly obvious, but to my simple brain, it’s also somewhat profound.

Nobody’s ever going to know or notice if you don’t stop to assist someone whose car is stuck in the snow. Or if you don’t offer to help someone who’s struggling to carry a heavy load. Or if you don’t stop to chat with the homeless guy and hand him a couple of bucks. Nobody’s likely to comment on its absence if you don’t smile, or if you don’t speak some words of appreciation to the waiter or the cashier. What we don’t do is lost forever and the potential it held to begin never-ending ripples of kindness is lost to the world. Who knows where those ripples might have reached and what difference they might have made?

I wonder if that’s why some people pooh-pooh kindness as feeble and inconsequential. How could anything as simple as smiling, holding a door, or offering a compliment make any difference in a world where countries are on the brink of war, where city streets could erupt in violence at any moment, and where inequality and mistrust divide us every which way?

I am reminded of the many times in my life when I was buoyed by a kind word or inspired to be a better me after witnessing the kindness of others. I can also recall times when I held back—afraid of how my words might be received, or reluctant to draw attention to myself. The ease of not doing or not saying offered me a safe haven…but at what cost?

Even this post, describing the simplicity of kindness and the allure of inertia, offers a similar choice. No one would ever know if I hit delete, fearful that the inanity of the obvious will be received with a roll of the eyes or a sigh of impatience. But, if I put it out there, maybe one person (maybe me!) will choose to extend a kindness they might otherwise have allowed to slip away. And who knows where that could lead?

Only one way to find out….

“If you want to be a rebel, be kind.” (Pancho Ramos Stierle)



13 thoughts on “Kindness Withheld is Kindness Lost Forever

  1. In his column today, Michael Gerson quotes from Vaclav Havel’s essay “Politics, Morality and Civility”. I think this excerpt, in particular, from the Havel quotation highlights your point, Donna:

    “I feel that the dormant goodwill in people needs to be stirred. People need to hear that it makes sense to behave decently or to help others, to place common interests above their own, to respect the elementary rules of human coexistence.”

    Though the word ‘kindness’ is not explicit in the quote, its definition is implicit: common sense, decency, altruism, and respect.

    Glad you hit Post instead of Delete. 🙂

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    • What a great quote, Kris! What Havel says seems so sensible and obvious—so elemental. Yet legions of people would scoff and dismiss it. How did we get to this place where self-interest reigns supreme and where common decency is so uncommon? And how, I wonder, do we stir that dormant goodwill in people? I’m in a permanent state of bafflement these days. Thank you for sharing this!

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  2. It is so easy to be so involved with what is going on in our heads that we don’t notice the needs of others. Most wouldn’t notice one act of kindness not done, but I think we’d all notice the change in the world if everyone chose to do that one act.

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    • It sure would be grim if everyone took a pass on kindness. Thank goodness for the people who are paying attention! They set a good example for the rest of us. Thanks, Janis!

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  3. I like being kind, especially to strangers that I won’t see ever again and vice versa. Sometimes I find it hard to be kind to family or friends. Perhaps subconsciously I am making up for the times I withheld kindness from family and friends by being kind to strangers. This post made me think. Thanks, Donna.

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  4. Thanks, Therese. I think it’s true for a lot of us that it’s easier to be kind to strangers than to the people we are closest to (especially family). I can only speculate that a lot of old baggage influences us, so when we act or react, old grudges may be poking their heads up. Hmmmm, now you’ve made me think.

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