In Claddagh the other day I was browsing through the posts of my Facebook friends and came across a striking quote of Kim Harrison’s posted by my friend Christopher Calkins “Treat people with understanding when you can. When you can’t, fake it until you do understand.” Simultaneous with noticing the quote my ears perked to the sounds of, I believe it was Katie Melua, singing Randy Newman’s words “… human kindness…overflowing! And I think it’s gonna’ rain today…” This music, this quote came together in my mind as representative of one notion. This is the notion of the significance of an attempt to understand another, an attempt to be present for another toward understanding and acceptance. To me, this is the epitome of human kindness. If someone, anyone, were to ask me what I most long for and what I most sincerely want to give to others… more than love, more than apologies, more than forgiveness… I would say I want to understand and I want to be understood. Or maybe it’s not so much the need or desire to be fully understood, as it is the desire to reach toward and have others reach toward that understanding. It is in that act of trying to understand that we place ourselves in the presence of another. We listen. We care. We arrive at connection.
I recently had a communication with a cousin who only knows me by the reputation I hold in my extended family. She said she always thinks of me as a cool sort of black sheep of the family and that she prides herself on her own status as a rebellious black sheep. I understood what she was saying about the pride a woman feels at taking a stand against the constraints of a family system. When I was young I felt some of that pride and boldness even in what I know now was simply bad behavior on my part. As I’ve grown and become the woman I am today it’s become important to me that people take the time to see me for who I am rather than seeing me through the eyes of the family story or the eyes of assumption. I told her I know I am seen as a black sheep but that I see myself as a minister for loving kindness, generosity, peace and forgiveness.
I’ve written here before about the essential question between friends and loved ones being “What are you going through?” I think we can extend our human kindness through assuming everyone is always going through something. We extend our human kindness by dropping our assumptions and judgments of others. I think we extend our ability to understand, welcome and accept each other when we take the time to ask, “What is it you wish me to understand in order to know and love you better?” It’s a gift to give someone your listening ear and your open heart. Sometimes this gift of wanting to understand is given without words. I once had a friend take a seat in the corner of the bubbling hot tub at the YWCA, signal me with her eyes to join her as she extended her arm to cradle my shoulder as I sat by her side. In that simple gesture she said volumes about the welcome, understanding and acceptance she had to offer. Human kindness. Yes. It’s overflowing. It is in our power to make it rain today.