Kindness - Strength or Weakness?
by Rabbi Michoel Gourarie
Kindness and charity are one of most honourable and elevated traits. Yet sometimes the kind-hearted and generous feel taken advantage of and trodden upon. The inability to ever say no results in feelings of resentment and frustration. What should have been an experience of goodwill becomes a source of tension. How do we ensure that acts of kindness generate a feeling of fulfilment and not a sense of letdown?
True kindness is an expression of selflessness. It reflects strength of character - an individual that has a strong identity and is secure enough to put him/herself to a side and make room for others. But sometimes compassion and kindness can be an outcome of extreme weakness. Some people engage in good deeds simply to ease their conscious and remove a sense of guilt. Others will do favours to seek approval. These are the people whose identity is completely based on what others think of them. They will always engage in activity that will gain admiration and approval from others. Benevolence borne out of weakness is often misguided and results in unhappiness.
Our father Abraham was the ultimate model of kindness and hospitality. On the third day after his circumcision at the age of ninety nine, a weak and recuperating Abraham was looking for guests. When he noticed the angels (who he thought were human), he ran after them and begged them to enter his tent, eat and refresh themselves. Yet at the same time he insisted they wash their feet before entering his home. He did so because in those times a common pagan practice was to bow down to the dust upon the feet. The kind and tolerant Abraham would not allow idol worship into his home. He would do anything for anyone but there were lines he wouldn't cross. He had a strong identity with clear direction and principles. His selflessness was an expression of strength, not weakness. To allow a guest to invade and damage his identity would have resulted in tension and unhappiness rather than an atmosphere of true love and friendship.
On a plane the flight attendant announces: "In the unlikely event of a loss of cabin pressure, masks will drop down before you. Those who are travelling with small children, make sure to secure your own mask before assisting your child." That is not being selfish, rather it is ensuring that -- have enough oxygen and the strength to help others. Having a firm and secure identity provides the inner strength and clarity to really help others with properly guided decisions.
Generosity needs direction. Giving a person money that he will use for a destructive addiction is harmful not helpful. Spending time helping others at the expense of your own family can be misguided kindness. Always saying yes to our children might be spoiling them, not loving them. Allowing yourself to be taken advantage of is a weakness, not a strength, and can lead to resentment and unhappiness. To be truly selfless one must have a strong identity, a set of values and a clear direction. Kindness based on strength will be appropriately guided and bring inner happiness.