A Letter to My Son About Kindness

This post was inspired by the 29 Random Acts of Kindness Project I am doing for my 29th Birthday. Please check it out at 29RandomActs.wordpress.com.

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Oliver,

There are many life lessons I want to impart on you during your youth. There are the obvious ones like “eat your veggies” and “get plenty of rest.” There are the hard ones like “life isn’t always fair” and “sometimes your best won’t cut it.” And then there are the ones that I hope will define you as an adult, the ones that will become the foundation of your character. Lessons like the importance of hard work and persistence and the value of  honesty.

There is one lesson, however, that I believe to be the most important, and if you remember one thing your mother ever told you it would be this: be kind.

Be kind in your thoughts and in your actions.

Be kind to yourself and to others.

Be kind when it is easy and when it is hard.

You, my son, have the potential to do amazing things with your life, to follow your dreams wherever they may lead. Maybe you’ll become a doctor who saves lives on a daily basis. Maybe you’ll become a teacher who inspires a love of learning in his students. Perhaps a lawyer, an architect, a pilot, a writer, or a banker. Maybe you’ll even take after your mother and be a stay-at-home dad for awhile. There are so many roads laid out before you.

My hope for you is that whichever road you take, you always walk with kindness. You see, living a truly fulfilling life isn’t about choosing the right path to follow. It isn’t about professional success, fame, or fortune, although that’s what most would have you believe. True fulfillment comes from connecting with the world around you through acts of kindness. It comes from focusing outward instead of focusing on within.

I’ve brought you into a complicated world. A world in which people sometimes do bad things for unexplainable reasons. It’s very easy to be blinded by the negativity. To get caught in a self-fulfilling cycle of seeing the bad that we expect. That is why I ask that you start by being kind in your thoughts.

Look at the world and the people in it in the most favorable light. Assume the best intentions in everyone you meet. Keep an open mind and withhold your judgment. Look for the inherent worth in every life, even the lives of people who do bad things. I promise you it is there.

Some might call this naïve or foolish. Some might believe you are setting yourself up for imminent disappointment. I, however, believe in the power of thoughts. I believe you create the reality you believe to be true. If you spend your time looking for the bad in the world, you are likely to find it. But if your thoughts are dominated by kindness, if you actively search for the best in people, the good will find a way to shine through.

But kind thoughts alone are only the wishes and dreams that change is built on. You have to turn your thoughts into actions. This can take many forms. From a simple smile at a stranger to giving of your time, talents, and wealth to those in need. It’s not the size of the act that matters but the intention behind it. No act of kindness is ever too small. No act is ever wasted.

The great thing about kindness is that it can be given away freely no matter your position in life. It is the one thing a rich man and a poor man can be equally wealthy in. And it is a wealth far more valuable than any material possession. When you show kindness, you are adding value to the world. It may not be a value that can be measured in dollars and cents, but it is a value that touches at the very core of what it means to be human.

I can already see how smart you are son. Everyday you do things that amaze me, things that convince me you will be up to the challenge. In your quest to be kind to others though, there is one person I ask you to be equally kind to: yourself. It’s very easy to dissect our own faults, to put them under a microscope, to enlarge them to the point of believing they define us. They do not.

Son, no matter your perceived faults, you are a worthy person…a person worthy of love, worthy of friendship, worthy of all the good things life has to offer. Extend the same kindness to yourself that you would to another. Love yourself unconditionally. Forgive your mistakes. Give yourself a break from time to time. And when that seems impossible, look at your faults through my eyes. You will be amazed by what you see.

Right now, you’re probably thinking “Okay mom, I get it. Just be kind. How hard can it be?” That sounds like a rhetorical question but I’m going to answer it anyway. Sometimes being kind isn’t hard at all. In those moments, I ask that you put your whole heart into it. Be kind at every opportunity that presents itself. Build up a reserve of good will. You will need it because sometimes the reality is that choosing to act with kindness will be the hardest thing you do.

I’ve mentioned that people do bad things and that there is a lot of negativity floating around. Thankfully, you haven’t seen too much of that yet. But I can only shelter you for so long. One day you will have to face it head on, and when you do, it will be so tempting to turn your back, walk away, and try to forget.

It is in that moment, the moment when everything in you is screaming to run away, that being kind will matter the most. Stand your ground and fight, not with hurtful words or swinging blows but with kindness.

Combat the negativity with positivity. Combat the hate with love. Tackle greed with a generous spirit and sorrow with joy. When those around you cower in fear, be brave. When the future looks bleak, find hope. Show kindness to those you deem deserving, but show even more to those you don’t. You will never be disappointed by the results.

This is the lesson I believe to be most important. This is the lesson I hope you remember. It is the one I hope to teach through example. Because whatever road you take in life, whatever you achieve personally or professionally, nothing will make me more proud than to have raised a son who walks that road with kindness.

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