"Be kind and compassionate to one another" (Ephesians 4:32, NIV).
Being kind is a little-extolled virtue. It seems so simple that we assume everyone practices kindness. Perhaps we do, but all of us could practice it more often.
Unkindness can creep into our homes as easily as the little gremlins that sabotage the dishwasher, the sink disposal, or the washing machine. Just as surely, lack of kindness can sabotage a happy and peaceful home.
The youngest in a playgroup came storming into the kitchen to tell his mother how he was being mistreated. "Tell them to be kind," Mom said. The little guy stomped back to the play yard, his arms stiff with anger, and a scowl on his face.
"My mom," he yelled at the others, "says, ‘Be kind!'"
"Kindness is the insignia of a loving heart" (Live take-home paper, "Reflections" column, 1992). We cannot expect our own lives, as parents, to teach kindness if we are self-focused. We cannot love others if we are consumed with loving ourselves. Self-focus turns our attention inward, rather than outward toward others. When parents are kind, the children will reflect the same attitude.
It doesn't really hurt us to clean up after someone else, even if we have to do it more than once. On the other hand, each family member needs to learn to think of others first and to put the desires of others before his or her own desires. Kindness is learned by practice, by parental example, and by constant reminders.
Here are some ideas for growing kindness at home.
1. Make it a game.
Do a kind act for another family member. Award 5 points if the recipient knows who did the kindness, and 10 points if he or she doesn't. Each family member should keep his own scorecard until the end of the week, and then all the kindnesses should be revealed and the scores added up.
2. Control the volume.
Practice using normal voices. Yelling may convey our message, but it will not come across as a kind one. Soft voices help avert anger. Having to yell above the TV or CD player is frustrating, so keeping the volume low will help everyone to be kind. All happy children are exuberant. However, there is a difference between happy chatter and noise for selfish reasons. Quiet voices and kind tones should be the norm.
The tone of voice with which we speak when instructing our children is most crucial. A kind tone of voice should be the rule in our homes.
On the game scorecard, mark 5 points for not yelling and 5 points for using a kind tone of voice. Subtract 5 points for yelling or for an ugly tone of voice.
3. Adopt someone.
As a family, we can take a gift to an elderly person in our community or church. Our gift could be a workday of gardening or straightening a garage or basement. It might simply be offering a few pieces of cake or a dozen cookies. Award 5 points for everyone who participates.
It is not so difficult, after all, to grow kindness at home.