About ten years after his presidency, Harry Truman was giving a speech at a university in California. After he spoke there was a question and answer session during which a young man stood up and in his query referred to the state’s governor in a way that was less than respectful. Truman, never known for mincing his words, rebuked him. The student took his seat, visibly shaken. After the event was over, Truman made his way over to where he was, shook his hand, and explained why he had said what he did and that he meant nothing personal by his words.
But he didn’t stop there. Truman realized that a harsh word from an ex-president could have a lasting negative effect so he asked the school’s dean to keep him informed in regard to the young man’s progress in school. In addition, Truman wrote him and there was an exchange of letters between the two.
I like this story for a several reasons. First, it a good example of kindness. After all, we all know what kindness is—we just need to see more of it! Another reason I like it is because it shows a person with power and influence using it for the betterment of others. But I think what I appreciate most is how kindness was used to patch over a rough spot. The young man had misspoken and was called out for it (maybe excessively, maybe not)—but isn’t it great how the story didn’t stop there? And it didn’t stop there because Truman saw past the incident to the person and reached out to him.
Kindness is the result of caring. It’s interesting as technology comes up with more and more ways for us to connect with others, there’s an increasing amount of rudeness and crudeness. Most of the time what’s happening is interaction is taking place between people who have never met and probably never will. This virtual anonymity (and the lack of accountability that accompanies it), makes it easier to attack others and say hateful and harmful things. Why? Unlike Truman, some seem to have lost sight of the fact that beyond whatever issue they’re addressing, there is a person who should be treated with respect and dignity (Truman’s point to begin with).
And what happened to the young man that Truman reached out to? I don’t know. But that’s another thing I like about the story. We’re not to be kind because we’re guaranteed it will pay off somewhere down the line in a happy ending. We’re to be kind because it’s the right thing to do regardless of someone’s response (or lack of response), to our kindness.
Henry James said, “Three things in human life are important: the first is to be kind; the second is to be kind; and the third is to be kind.” An overstatement of course but a forgivable one if it will help us to remember . . .. . . Love is kind!