"Gratitude on a daily basis means we express appreciation for what we have now without qualification for what we had in the past or desire in the future."
-- Bishop Robert D. Hales (April 1992 LDS general conference)
I have worked in the Postal Service for over 25 years. I have also worked in restaurants, nursing homes, retail stores, fire departments, newpaper delivery, and even as a telephone solicitor. In other words, I have spent all my live working with and for other people.
People can be very interesting creatures. They can be friendly or standoffish, impatient, angry, sad, generous, compassionate, and even funny. But each one of us has at our disposal one of the greatest powers on earth—kindness.
Years ago, I was a single mom who moved to a new area. I had six small children and did not know anyone else. I had friends that helped me unload all our household goods and than left me there to put everything in order. I had started putting things away and was feeling rather lonely and depressed (hard to do with six small children clammering all around you). It was a new part of my life, and I wasn't sure that I was looking forward to it. There came a knock at the door and three men stood there. They were the new bishopric who had received a call from one of my friends and they were coming over to see what I needed in the way of help. Within an hour, dinner had arrived from other sisters in my new ward. Several people had come to help unpack, and I was welcomed into the area by my new neighbors.
I seem to forget many things that have happened in my life. All these years later, I can't remember their names, or which houses belonged to them, but I can remember the kindness shown by a group of strangers to a woman who was embarking on a new and terrifying journey in life. They made all the difference for me at a time that was very difficult. They gave me the strength I needed to press forward with faith and hope.
How often have you heard the saying, "Kindness begets kindness". We've all been trapped in line at the supermarket, the bank, or even the Post Office. It doesn't take long for people to get out-of-sorts, to feel mistreated, to think that the employee is not hurrying fast enough. A glare from the clerk or teller, a surly comment from a customer, and the tension keeps mounting higher and higher, until it snaps and someone says or does something they should not.
Yet how many times have you seen a kind word or thoughtful gesture defuse that tension in an instant? I have. In fact, it's usually the only thing that will work. Once I witnessed a store manager calm an irate customer (my mother) by simply pulling over a chair for her to sit down. It was amazing and actually defused a situation that was quite embarrassing to me.
When I was in High School, I loved singing. I wanted to be in the elite choir at school. I tried out, and I knew that I had made it. When the notice was posted on the board, I found out that I had not. I was devastated. I decided that I would not sing anymore. Obviously, this teacher knew that I did not have any talent in that one important area of my life. One of my seminary teachers said to me: "Patty, you are good enough, and you should have made it. I think you have a wonderful voice and you should not give up singing". Just a few kind words. It couldn't have taken more than a minute. Brother Parker believed I was good enough to be in the choir. That little bit of encouragement made all the difference to a girl with a broken heart. I did not give up. I never did make that top choir, but I have sang at many places and for many different people. Music has blessed me with some of the most amazing experiences of my life. I am so thankful for that encouragement that gave me the strength to continue with something that has blessed me so much later on in my life.
Kindness doesn't always come easy. Sometimes you have to really work at it. I was on my mail route many years ago and there was a family on one of the streets that I delived to whose father had lost his job right before Christmas. There were seven small children in the family. One of the neighbors got with me and we decided to play "santa" to this family. I went home and talked to my children. They had a game system that was in very good shape along with several games. We took that game system, all the games, and several other items that were in great shape around our home. We also used some of the money that I had been planning on spending for them that Christmas. We wrapped everything and took everything to the neighbors home. It was delivered on Christmas eve. Our Christmas was a little small that year, but our hearts were full because of the gifts that we had given to these other children. It was a great learning experience for all of us and Heavenly Father blessed each of my children as they learned to give something that they loved to other children who did not have as much as they did.
We need to remember to be kind even when we don't know if it will be returned. My family has hosted foreign exchange students several times in the past 15 years. Sometimes, they are in our home for a couple of weeks, and sometimes, they can be there for a year or more. It has always been a good experience for us to learn about other cultures. The kids sometimes had a hard time adjusting to our american home, and sometimes my own american kids had a hard time adjusting to children from other cultures. In the past year, two prior exchange students have found me on the internet and gotten back in touch with me and my family. It has been a true blessing to receive the letters of thanks from these students and their families and to see what they have done with their lives. We never know how we can reach out and touch others through our kindness.
In the King James version of the New Testament we read in Matthew 25:34-40:
34 Then shall the King say unto them on His right hand, `Come, ye blessed of My Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.
35 For I hungered, and ye gave Me meat; I was thirsty, and ye gave Me drink; I was a stranger, and ye took Me in;
36 naked, and ye clothed Me; I was sick, and ye visited Me; I was in prison, and ye came unto Me.'
37 Then shall the righteous answer Him, saying, `Lord, when saw we Thee hungering and fed Thee, or thirsty and gave Thee drink?
38 When saw we Thee a stranger and took Thee in, or naked and clothed Thee?
39 Or when saw we Thee sick, or in prison, and came unto Thee?'
40 And the King shall answer and say unto them, `Verily I say unto you, inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these My brethren, ye have done it unto Me.'
We can be kind at anytime. Even when you don't realize how much it meant to someone else.
Being kind can change us. It was a the Christmas season in the Post Office. I had a long line of people and one particular customer had just been insulting and rude. I was embarrassed and angry. The next customer started complaining to me: "I can't believe there are so few of you working," she groused.
"Look," I said, sounding just as unpleasant as she did , "give me a break, we are still trying to put up the mail and the packages."
That's when I recalled all the things I had ever learned about kindness. "Let me start again," I said. "I am sorry that the line is so long, how can I help you today?" I finished her transaction and kept working through the line.
I don't know if she felt any better, but I did. I couldn't do anything about the long lines or the fact that the mail was late, or the shortage of clerks. But in a few seconds I'd been able to turn around a situation that would have had me complaining all through the day.
Whether it is a little gesture, a show of encouragement or simply seeing the situation from a different point of view, kindness is sometimes the greatest power of all, a power that can motivate us and change us.
William Wordsworth once said that the best parts of a good person's life are "the little, nameless, unremembered acts of kindness and love."
I think I agree with that. No one else might remember them, but I remember many of the small acts of kindness that have been done to me. I am so grateful for those in my life who live this wonderful principle. May we all take the time today to be just a little more kind.
"Gratitude creates the most wonderful feeling. It can resolve disputes. It can strengthen friendships. And it makes us better men and women."
-- Gordon B. Hinckley