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Dr. Mardy's Quotes of the Week
October 29-November 4, 2023 | THIS WEEK'S THEME: “Kindness”
Opening Line of the Week
In the opening words of her memoir, Stone found a tantalizing way of drawing readers in. As she continued, she abruptly—and brilliantly, in my view—shifted gears:
“I wished he were someone who loved me instead of someone whose next words were ‘You’re bleeding into your brain.’”
There’s no other way to describe my reaction: I was hooked. And Stone began to reel me in as she described a 2001 medical emergency that, at age forty-three, threatened her career and almost took her life.
Every year for the past four years, I’ve done an end-of-year post on “The Best Opening Lines of the Year.” Stone’s memoir was one of my 2021 selections, and I’m now in the process of compiling my 2023 list. If you were impressed by the opening words of a book you read this year, drop me a line.
For nearly 2,000 memorable opening lines from every genre of world literature, go to www.GreatOpeningLines.com. And if you’d like to receive a daily dose of outstanding openers, follow me on Facebook.
This Week’s Puzzler
On November 5, 1850, this woman was born on her family’s farm near Johnstown, Wisconsin. The youngest of four children born into a well-to-do family (her father was the son of a wealthy Vermont businessman), she actually grew up in an atmosphere of financial struggle after her father lost the farm—and most of his money—in a series of speculative investments.
Her parents viewed themselves as intellectuals and, despite their significant loss of wealth, they retained a keen interest in language and literature. As their children grew, they were introduced to Gulliver’s Travels, The Arabian Nights, and other literary classics. By the time they entered public school, they were also familiar with Shakespeare’s sonnets.
This week’s Mystery woman began writing poetry at age eight, and she completed an eleven-chapter novel a year later (decades later, she said she became “a neighborhood celebrity”). She was a teenager when her first poems were published in The New York Mercury, and by the time she graduated from high school she had achieved statewide fame as a poet.
In her twenties and early thirties, she continued to write poetry, but without much success. And then, in early 1883, her poem “The Way of the World” was published in The New York Sun. She was quickly offered a book deal, and later in the year came out with a volume of poetry titled Poems of Passion. The opening words of one of the poems became legendary:
In the late 1800s and early 1900s, she became one of America’s most popular poets, and able to achieve the rare status of being able to support herself through the writing of poetry. In addition to her nine volumes of poetry she also wrote four novels and two memoirs.
Despite her popularity, her poetry was often panned by critics as simple and sentimental (one famously described one her poems as “insipid”). But there is no doubt that she crafted many memorable lines:
Sadly, many of her poems are now included in anthologies of bad poetry, and one biographer even said she might be best described as “a bad major poet.” I’m not a sophisticated poetry fan, but I’ve always been impressed by her ability to express a powerful idea in verse.
Perhaps her most famous creation appeared in an 1896 poem:
Who is this person? (Answer below)
Would You Describe Yourself as a Kind Person?
According to The American Heritage Dictionary, the words kind, kindly, and kindhearted all mean pretty much the same thing: “Having or showing a tender, considerate, and helping nature.”
If I were to summarize the essence of kindness in a few words, I’d say it this way: kind people recognize that other people have important needs and they derive satisfaction out of doing things to meet those needs. As a result, kind people are almost always highly regarded—and sometimes even beloved.
This does not mean, however, that kind people are nothing more than namby-pamby, people-pleasers. True kindness, you see, is an attempt to provide what people need, and not what they want. These two things can become confused, though, as we commonly see when people ask for a candid critique when what they really want is praise or approval.
When the something being critiqued is not particularly good, people with a flawed idea of kindness tend to minimize—or completely ignore—the negative. This is a mistake, for not telling the truth when a friend asks for feedback is not being kind, it is a betrayal of friendship. About this kind of error, George Eliot wrote in Daniel Deronda (1876): “Ignorant kindness may have the effect of cruelty.”
Those with a clear understanding of kindness will generally find something to like—even if just the effort involved—and they will not shy away from the problematical. When truly kind people provide a candid—and often painful—critique, they are guiding their efforts by the oxymoronic words of the title character in Shakespeare’s Hamlet (1601): “I must be cruel only to be kind.”
Kindness is often discussed along with terms like empathy, compassion, and love, but it has one quality—one absolutely essential quality—that sets it apart. One cannot choose to be empathic or compassionate. Nor can one choose to love where that feeling does not exist. But one can choose to be kind, and this important fact means that kindness is available to all people—even those of us who tend to lead with our heads rather than our hearts.
Let me illustrate with a story from my therapy practice a little more than two decades ago. In our first session, a forty-something CEO whose wife had abruptly left him after almost ten years of marriage said he was confused and bewildered. In his last conversation with his wife, he pleaded, “Why are you doing this? I gave you everything you wanted.” Her reply haunted him: “Yes, you were very generous. You gave me everything I wanted except for the thing I wanted most: a little kindness.”
After he admitted that he was “more of a cognitive guy” than an emotional one, I replied: “I don’t believe it’s necessary to be emotional in order to become kind.” I went on to say pretty much what I wrote above about kindness being a conscious choice, and then introduced him to the “Random Acts of Kindness” phenomenon that was becoming popular at the time (more on this below). In the rest of the session, we discussed the potential relevance of the concept in his life.
A week later, he was eager to tell me about an experience he had a few days after our first session. He was at the checkout counter of a supermarket when he noticed a mother with three young children behind him. As the clerk was ringing up his order, he observed the mom nervously counting the bills in her purse. He also overheard her youngest child whimpering over the fact that his favorite cereal had to be put back on the shelf. Acting on impulse, he handed the clerk a fifty-dollar bill and softly said, “Please apply this to the next customer’s bill.” And if there’s any change, make sure you give it to her.” A few moments later, as he observed from a safe distance, he said tears came to his eyes as he watched the mother’s reaction. In that moment, he proved the wisdom of an observation from Eric Hoffer’s The Passionate State of Life (1955):
“Kindness can become its own motive. We are made kind by being kind.”
After he shared the story—and the significance it had for him—my client gave me a copy of an article he’d found on “100 Ways to Practice Random Acts of Kindness” (I no longer have it, but you can see a similar list in a 2014 Buzzfeed article here). He then thanked me for my help, said he now had a roadmap in his mind, and concluded, “I don’t think we’ll need another session; I believe I’ll be able to handle things on my own going forward.”
(Parenthetically, I accidentally ran into him a few years later. With his fiancée at his side, he introduced me as the guy who helped him turn his life around. He then said, “I’m still not the most warm and caring guy in the world, and never will be, but I’ve discovered I can consciously choose to be kind and thoughtful—and that’s good enough for me.” We all then had a big laugh when she replied, “And that’s good enough for me as well.”)
Let me close with a few remarks about the “Random Acts of Kindness” movement, which emerged as a cultural phenomenon in the early 1990s. For years, I thought it was inspired by some words from William Wordsworth:
As it turns out, I was wrong. The origins of the movement can be traced to a precise moment in 1982 when Anne Herbert, a Berkeley writer, editor, and peace activist was playing around with the phrase random violence and senseless acts of cruelty. After a time, a reversal of the phrase came to her mind and she wrote random kindness and acts of senseless beauty. The first published appearance of that phrase was in a 1982 issue of CoEvolution Quarterly, an offshoot of Stewart Brand’s Whole Earth Catalog.
The saying enjoyed a kind of underground popularity in the Bay area until January 1991, when a local woman noticed Herbert’s exact phrase scrawled on a wall in her neighborhood. After she mentioned it to her husband—a middle-school teacher—he shared it with his seventh-grade class, which included the daughter of San Francisco Chronicle columnist Adair Lara. Lara was so impressed with the thought that she wrote an article about it. The article was subsequently picked up by Reader’s Digest, a few other newspaper columnists, and a number of internet message boards. The seeds of a new social movement had been planted.
In January of 1993, Conari Press, a small (four employees) press in Berkeley, came out with Random Acts of Kindness, a book of vignettes and quotations. The book, dedicated to Anne Herbert, became a surprise bestseller and was the single most important factor behind the establishment of the Random Acts of Kindness movement. Later in 1993, Anne Herbert came out with a small (36-page) illustrated booklet titled Random Kindness and Acts of Senseless Beauty, but it did not play a significant role in advancing the concept.
In 1995, the folks at Conari Press also founded the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation, and one of the organization’s first efforts was to establish February 17th as “Random Acts of Kindness Day.” For more on the Foundation and its efforts to including the teaching of kindness in school curricula around the world, go here.
This week, take a few moments to think about the role kindness has played in your life—and don’t forget to include the kindnesses you’ve received as well as those you’ve bestowed. As you approach the subject, let your thinking be stimulated by this week’s compilation of quotations:
Remember there’s no such thing as a small act of kindness. Every act creates a ripple with no logical end. — Scott Adams
QUOTE NOTE: I strongly urge you to see what Adams had to say about kindness in a 1995 edition of his newsletter. Scroll down to “A Kind Word.”
No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted. — Aesop
When kindness has left people, even for a few moments, we become afraid of them, as if their reason had left them. — Willa Cather
This is my simple religion. There is no need for temples; no need for complicated philosophy. Our own brain, our own heart is our temple; the philosophy is kindness. — Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama
A single act of kindness throws out roots in all directions, and the roots spring up and make new trees. — Amelia Earhart
When I was young, I admired clever people. Now that I am old, I admire kind people. — Abraham Joshua Heschel
Kindness, at least actual, is in our power, but fondness is not. — Dr. Samuel Johnson
A part of kindness consists in loving people more than they deserve. — Joseph Joubert
I would like to have engraved inside every wedding band, Be kind to one another. This is the Golden Rule of marriage, and the secret of making love last through the years. — Randolph Ray
Constant kindness can accomplish much. As the sun makes ice melt, kindness causes misunderstanding, mistrust, and hostility to evaporate. — Albert Schweitzer
Kindness has converted more people than zeal, science, or eloquence. — Mother Teresa
For source information on these quotations, and many other quotations on the topic of KINDNESS, go to Dr. Mardy's Dictionary of Metaphorical Quotations.
Cartoon of the Week
Answer to This Week’s Puzzler:
Ella Wheeler Wilcox (1850-1919)
Dr. Mardy’s Observation of the Week
Thanks for joining me again this week. See you next Sunday morning, when the theme will be “The Potential for Greatness.”
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Regarding My Lifelong Love of Quotations: A Personal Note
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