Retirement Talk

WHAT to do with the rest of your life?


Episode 253 Kindness, Gentleness and Compassion


Setting goals in life can be tricky. It takes real thought and effort to separate the wheat from the chaff. I'm trying to think of a eulogy where they praise the departed for gardening, musical ability, great writing, or world traveling experiences. And then another eulogy where they praised dearly departed for their kindness, gentleness, compassion. I'm imagining which I would prefer. Kindness, gentleness, and compassion would rank pretty high. I'm thinking of the teachings of Buddha, Jesus, Mahatma Gandhi, or Martin Luther King. When I taught comparative world religion many years ago I recall telling my students that I had a hard time imagining those four having any kind of an argument or disagreement. Kindness, gentleness and compassion were attributes they each processed and advocated.

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The press recently reported that in three separate incidences young children were found beaten to death by their parents. All of the parents were reading a book on child rearing that advocated for the beating of children. The old, "spare the rod and spoil the child" philosophy. It is a book written by a minister and his wife on childrearing according to their interpretation of the the Bible. Once again, I have a hard time imagining Jesus beating a child. 

Then I heard an interview with Jerry West the great basketball player of the sixties. He was a champion of champions. He stared on several NBA championship teams. Then he coached several NBA championship teams. He was so good that the NBA adopted his image into their logo. He talked of how his father regularly beat him as a child. The beatings ended when his father hit his sister and Jerry reacted by telling his father, "If you ever hit her again I will kill you". He slept with a loaded shotgun under his bed for several years. He was 14 or 15 years old when the incident occurred. How many children grow up being beaten in their own house?

We have to learn to be kind, gentle, and compassionate. We are not born possessing these qualities. This thought has been like a brain worm of late. I can't get it out of my mind. I know that we try to teach or children this all the time. We try to explain to them why they should share their toys or candy. We try to speak softly. We try to treat them with gentleness as we hold them closely or help them in and out of their diapers. We comfort them when they spill their milk. And if we don't do these things, we should.

I'm not sure we remind ourselves enough about how important it is to cultivate these major life disciplines. It is easy to yell at the dog, or your child, or your spouse. It is easy to yell at someone who doesn't agree with your position. We see it all the time. It always reminds me of just how important it is to walk softly. Our children see us react to situations and pattern their lives on our own actions. The old adage of action speaking louder than words is well founded.

My childhood was spent learning to lean into any effort with just a little bit more strength; be hard. Of course there is a time for strength and maximum effort, but the softer side should not be neglected. My musical effort has always suffered from this discipline of strength. My mind and body learned tenseness and hardness and it has been very difficult to change. Those two attributes though necessary at time also require a tempering. Kindness, gentleness, and compassion deserve equal time.

What the world would be like if we would raise these attributes into a designated field of study? None of the tests designed to measure the success of our schools test for this. Yet I don't think there is anything more important. We don't have classes with those titles. I'm not even sure we have expectations that those qualities will be taught by all teachers in all classes.

I like to think that I incorporated those attributes in my teaching but I'm probably deluding myself. I'm not sure I knew how important it was at the time and for that I am truly sorry. I feel certain the answer to that question would differ according to which former students were queried. 

I like to think that those students who illustrated a need for extra kindness, gentleness and compassion received them. There were others who required a bit more firmness  introduced into their lives. And there I go; making exceptions. I don't think my four role models would have made any exceptions. If I had it to do over I would change my ways.

That's one of the advantages of retirement. We can look back over our life and measure our efforts. We may not be able to repair the damage done but we can redirect the remainder of our days with reflection, awareness and effort.

When people asked about what we are doing in retirement we might surprise a few with our response. One could do worse than die with a reputation for kindness, gentleness and compassion.

This is Retirement Talk.






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