Oscar Wilde On Kindness

Micah 6:8, one of the better known verses in the Bible, is often preached on.  I have done so myself.  Because it is so short, it usually seems appropriate to try to bring the entire verse into play, but this morning I would like to focus on just the word “kindness.”

I would like to do so by first sharing with you some words from the Irish writer, Oscar Wilde, which I believe get to the heart of the matter of kindness without ever using the word:

“If a friend of mine gave a feast,” Wilde wrote, “and did not invite me to it, I should not mind a bit.  But if a friend of mine had a sorrow and refused to allow me to share it, I should feel it most bitterly.  If he shut the doors of the house of sorrow against me, I would move back again and again and beg to be admitted so that I might share in what I was entitled to share.  If he thought me unworthy, unfit to weep with him, I should feel it as the most poignant humiliation.”

If I had asked you when you came in to give your understanding of the word “kindness,” my guess is that you would have said some things pretty similar to what I would have said prior to seeing this Wilde quote.  We tend to think of acts of kindness as proactive.  It is Wilde’s brilliance to see also the receiving nature of kindness.  You do your fellow humans a great kindness when you allow them to share in your pain, when you allow them in to your house of sorrow.

How do you know that they want you to be with them in their pain?  Isn’t it because, when all the outer protections of our pull-yourselves-up-by-own-bootstraps, hyper-individualistic society have worn away, we all know deep down inside that we all need others when our own lives are turning upside down.  This should not surprise us.  Scan the science or psychology sections at any bookstore and you will find more and more books defining the human being as a social creature with the need for the presence of other human beings.

Sadly, we often forget, and Tom Lyerla, I thank you for reminding me Friday of this truth about our nature.  The four hours you spent in my home Friday so I would not be alone in my pain were, ironically, a kindness I extended to you even as your stay was a kindness you extended to me.  Over the years, of course, there have been countless others to whom I have extended kindness in this way of understanding one aspect of kindness.  In the years ahead, I ask you to offer me the kindness of being with you in your pain.  Otherwise, in the words of Oscar Wilde, “I should feel it as the most poignant humiliation.”

Let me close by repeating the quote from Wilde:

“If a friend of mine gave a feast and did not invite me to it, I should not mind a bit.  But if a friend of mine had a sorrow and refused to allow me to share it, I should feel it most bitterly.  If he shut the doors of the house of sorrow against me, I would move back again and again and beg to be admitted so that I might share in what I was entitled to share.  If he thought me unworthy, unfit to weep with him, I should feel it as the most poignant humiliation.”  Amen.

Leave a reply

1 + six =