Try a little Tenderness
Presented at the Unitarian Church, Pittsfield, MA
on 10/21/07

Both our sons live down in New York and they seem to enjoy griping about the way New Yorkers are. You know, the stereo-typical, hurry up and get out of my way-type. According to them, getting a smile and making eye contact is practically impossible.
But every time Jane & I have visited there we've found just the opposite.
I confess that I am a native New Yorker myself, but I fled that area and swore to myself I'd never go back. I kept that promise for better than 25 years, until I returned there to attend seminary in 2004.

One of the things that had caused me to hesitate and almost back out of selecting that particular seminary was that I'd have to go into New York City.

But I wanted to go to school and I wanted it to be this particular school, so I had no choice. My first day of school ironically fell on the 3rd anniversary of Sept.11th and I caught the train out of Wassaic at a ridiculously early hour-I think around 5:30 in the morning. I guess you could say I was a bit keyed up .
Amazingly, when I got to the station, there were only 2 other people there, one of whom I knew. A friend, a fellow musician who was on his way down to perform at a service of remembrance. He told me he made the trip to NYC all the time and it was a piece of cake. We made small talk on the train and that eased me a bit.

By the time I arrived at Grand Central Station I was feeling better about the whole deal. As I said my goodbyes to him and walked up the stairs and emerged into the Grand Concourse, I was awe struck with the sight-I felt like a little kid again, like I was seeing it all for the very first time.

That day-my first day to New York City in over 25 years-was so different than all my earlier experiences. When I walked out on to 42nd street, before I had a chance to even think about it, I felt my face break into this huge grin!
AND I noticed how different the people were. The people I met were actually pleasant! They even smiled! Not that they didn't rush and move fast, but that's okay. I like to move fast too.
When I got home and told Jane about it, saying how much the place had changed, she said to me that maybe it wasn't just the city that had done the changing.

That was true. That guy who was in NYC back in 1976 was a very different person than the me of today. Truth is I was afraid almost all the time back then, but of course I wouldn't show it. Hell, I didn't even know it!

Fear is a funny thing. It often disguises itself. It wears a lot of masks. For me, back then, the mask was arrogance and anger.

Gee, Do ya think that might have had something to do with the way I viewed people...and the way they responded to me???

The other day Jane saw a great bumper sticker: “The first one who smiles, wins.”
Smiling makes us feel better.

Did you know that just the act of smiling can change your mood? Smiling causes chemical changes in the brain that are beneficial for your health.
Next time you're angry or annoyed try smiling-I mean really smile-full face-engage the eyes! We've all met the people who smile, but the smile stops at the mouth. This is not a true smile-there's no engagement with the heart. You'll find you can't do a true-eyes and all- smile, and still stay angry.

I'll bet all of us have met the customer rep from hell, the one who looks as if we are simply theeee biggest inconvenience they've ever had in their life. If you gave them a choice between smiling at you or having bamboo shoots shoved under their fingernails, they'd have to think about it for awhile.
They don't want to be there and they don't want to help you. Period. They're miserable and they want to spread it around a bit. They are trapped, and misery loves company, so they'd like you to join them. But you don't have to.

Everyday each one of us has a choice we make: will I be a part of the light in the world -or will I add to its darkness? Will I be part of the healing, or more of the suffering? And this choice continues coming at us every waking moment of the day.

You don't have to be a bad person to add to the darkness.
I'm not a bad person, but I know that all that fear and anger I carried around some years ago certainly didn't add to the light in the world.

And I still struggle with some things. Driving is sometimes a place where I meet my darker side. God forbid you should pull out in front of me and then have the nerve to obey the speed limit!! I actually may get angry-at least if I'm supposed to be someplace in 5 minutes.

Now this isn't big stuff here, but if you multiply this kind of petty anger by millions, or maybe hundreds of millions of people, what starts to happen to the atmosphere around us??
What we think and what we feel does not stay isolated within our own bodies and minds. We are all connected-to each other and to our environment.
That being said, being kind makes a good deal of sense. So today I'm here to invite you to try a little tenderness, kindness and compassion. Soften yourself toward the world. The next time you feel angry, Try substituting kindness instead.
Before speaking ask yourself: Is it true? Is it necessary? Is it kind?
If it doesn't pass all three, then don't.
These are opportunity moments.

Lately I've even taken to sending the guy who just pulled out in front of me a silent blessing instead of a curse. It's amazing how that turns things around for me!

I think that most of us do try to be kind. But maybe there are some things we can improve on if we pay attention and make an effort.
Practically all of us get opportunities everyday to practice at least one act of kindness. And who knows? That one act may actually make a profound difference in someone's life. It may even save a life.
I heard a woman by the name of Pamela tell a story about going through a terrible time in her life. She had health problems, relationship problems and work problems. She had been getting more and more depressed about her life. She began to think of killing herself and finally made the decision to do it. On the day she planned to do this she was taking the bus home after work. As usual the bus was packed and people were standing. When she got on a man offered her his seat. At first she refused, but he smiled and said “please”, so she took it. She said that this act of kindness did something. She recounted how this mans simple act of giving up his seat, and more importantly giving her a kind smile, saved her life. Instead of going home and killing herself, this kindness interupted her plans, caused her to hesitate. She got professional help and turned her life around and eventually went on to become a counselor herself.
One of the people in the audience had asked her, “what if that man hadn't been there?” She didn't even hesitate, she said, “If he hadn't been there, then I am absolutely certain that I would not be here
The seemingly smallest kindness can have a profound effect.

Tenderness and kindness softens our heart towards others, and the world needs softer, not harder, hearts.
The writer George Eliot said:
When death, the great reconciler, has come, it is never our tenderness
that we repent of, but our severity.
Kindness is tenderness in action.
Author Gail Pursell Elliott says Kindness is something that we must own and extend to ourselves, before we are able to extend it to others. When we do this, we do not determine whether someone deserves our kindness ... it is simply something we do because it has become our nature to be kind."

Lao Tzu said: "Kindness in words creates confidence. Kindness in thinking creates profoundness. Kindness in giving creates love."
Some of you may be wondering, how can I say this given the way things are in the world?
I say it exactly because things are as they are in the world!!!

There is nothing made better by hatred….and nothing made worse by love.

And because I know that what I tell you is true! I've seen it work in my life and in the lives of others.
Where do you start?
In the words of Nakosi Johnson , a 12 yr old African boy who died from AIDS, but spent his last years raising awareness to the plight of children like him all over Africa.
He said: “Do all you can, in the time that you have, in the place that you are.”
You start right where you are.

You start with what you have, which is your ability to change the way you do things.
It begins with paying attention and recognizing that in each moment you do have a choice. It starts small. A positive thought instead of a negative one. A smile instead of a blank stare or frown.
Let me tell you I've seen the power that a smile can have in changing a situation.
I had read somewhere that it is important to mentally connect to your heart when you speak or smile. The heart does not lie, and that's the vital importance of connecting to it. So you put your attention there.
I cannot tell you how many times practicing this has turned around an ugly situation.

Over at Berkshire Community Action Council I often meet with people in crisis. Someone may come into my office who is extremely angry because their electricity has been shut off. Sometimes these people are not very pleasant, and they “push”, and I immediately want to “push” back.

I rush to judgment-how they look or why they're in the jam they're in. I do this because I've taken their nasty attitude personally. I am in defense mode!

Then I notice that I've done this. And here's the trick. As I notice this I begin to make a conscious effort-a choice! First I remind myself that this isn't personal, even if it seems that way. And then I place my attention in my heart, and I feel myself soften it.
This shitf all takes place in a matter of seconds.

I give this person my attention. And something happens. I've said nothing but this person who was hot as hell a few minutes ago starts to calm down. At some point we both begin to smile as we talk.
Maybe I'm not able to solve the problem they came in shouting about, but something has happened-something has changed.

People have come back to me months or years later and told me that that day in the office was a turning point for them. This wasn't because I “fixed” their problem.
They appreciated the kindness. And that healed something.
I didn't do it - the kindness did. That opened the door to something Greater, and the healing began.
I don't tell you this so you'll say “Wow what a nice guy Rich Hayes is”. This tenderness and kindness is not a natural response for me…and I suspect it isn't natural for most of us. I am not a Mother Theresa or Gandhi or Jesus.

I tell you this because I know that if I can do it, you can do it!
All it takes is practice. Like anything we do in life, we only become good at something by doing it over and over again.

And in time it can become the way you respond automatically, because as author Gail Purcell pointed out, with practice, kindness will become our nature.
Cultivating kindness and tenderness allows us to see people differently - and we benefit!!

Focusing on the faults of others always leads us to things like apathy and despair in our own life.
Find the good whenever you can, and when you can't, send a silent blessing anyway.

I sited Jesus and Mother Theresa and Gandhi a few minutes ago. They are examples of people who were able to continually expand their hearts-so much so that their hearts finally encompassed the whole world. But Jesus told us that what he does, we can also do. I believe him.

I also believe there are people on this planet right now who are changing things. People whose hearts are growing and growing. They may not be famous, or widely known. They don't need to be.They are doing the work that needs to be done. They are in all walks of life-doctors, cops, trash collectors and cab drivers, excecutives and clerks. What there title is doesn't matter. That they are here does! And they all started where they were.
This paying attention -becoming more conscious and aware and learning to choose- is not easy stuff. But it is wonderful stuff.
And what you may discover defies description -at least with any words I have at my disposal-and truly, Some things are beyond words.

Tolstoy said: “The kinder and more thoughtful a person is, the more kindness he or she can find in other people."
Find that kindness in yourself so you can see it in others and you will be a part of the healing that this world so desperately needs.