What Would Be the Kindest Choice?

Who’s the kindest person you know?  
 
Someone who exudes “nice.”  Who is always willing to help without a complaint. Who offers a smile and an encouraging word.
 
It might be a parent, a colleague, a friend, a neighbor, a fellow church member or even a boss. But somewhere in your life there’s a person who rises above everyone else with the level of kindness they show. Do you ever wonder how do you think they got that way?  It’s not by accident.
 
One of the most legendarily kind people is Fred Rogers. “Mister Rogers,” as he’s known to countless children (and adults!) seemed to be the manifestation of kindness. There has been a buzz lately about Fred Rogers with the release of “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” starring Tom Hanks as our favorite next-door neighbor.  The movie is loosely based upon an Esquire profile of Fred Rogers “Can You Say…Hero?” (https://classic.esquire.com/article/1998/11/1/can-you-say-hero) done by Tom Junod back in 1998. I encourage you to read that article and then see the movie. 
 
His slow, quiet, and patient demeanor and his way of accepting everyone were indicators of what a kind man he was.  He did the same small good thing for a very long time. 
 
But Mister Rogers the celebrity — who by all accounts was the same as Fred Rogers the man — had to work at it. Every day. He admitted as much in his counsel to everyone about what it takes to build relationships:
 
“Mutually caring relationships require kindness and patience, tolerance, optimism, joy in the other’s achievements, confidence in oneself, and the ability to give without undue thought of gain. We need to accept the fact that it’s not in the power of any human being to provide all these things all the time. For any of us, mutually caring relationships will also always include some measure of unkindness and impatience, intolerance, pessimism, envy, self-doubt, and disappointment.”
 
Mister Rogers wasn’t perfect. Neither is any one of us. He worked hard on his humanness: He would swim laps each day at the downtown Pittsburgh Athletic Club near the studios where he filmed.  He would aggressively watch and keep his weight at 143 pounds.  He would at times strongly bang notes on the piano to give off frustration and express anger. He would pause and offer silent prayer and meditation for those he had met and encountered.  He read the Bible every day.  He by no means was perfect.  And yet he gave an incredible insight and road map into living a life of kindness. 
 
This is why reflection and tranquility are so important as we determine who or what we want to be, in our private lives and in our public lives.
 
It takes a great deal of practice and deliberation. The word “deliberation” is a direct descendant of the Latin word deliberare, which means to consider carefully.
 
In the film A Beautiful Day in the NeighborhoodTom Hanks portrays Mister Rogers. Now, if you know anything about the actor Tom Hanks, it’s that he is widely considered one of the kindest people in show business.  So much so that, according to a recent New York Times article, a journalist who attended a panel suggested that Tom Hanks is just playing Tom Hanks, but “slower.”  
 
But the slowness of Fred Rogers — the un-self-conscious, considered slowness — was hard, Hanks said. It felt ridiculous when he first tried it out. He studied hours of tapes, because sometimes he couldn’t imagine that he was supposed to go this slowly… ‘It’s a combination of procedure and behavior that was singularly Fred Rogers.’”
 
But there’s something to that notion of needing to slow down. Especially now in our lives and world.  When everything is calling us to go faster (work, technology, calendars, etc), perhaps we all could simply slow down the brakes, pause and appreciate.  When you need to weigh things in your mind, you need peace and solitude to allow that to happen.  And you need to choose deliberately what you’ll do.
 
Every day, we’re faced with decisions that require our response:
  • I need to give my direct report feedback or criticism about their behavior.
  • My children are misbehaving at school or home.
  • The business strategy we’ve chosen isn’t working out.
  • A new family has moved into our neighborhood.
  • Someone made a post or tweet critical of me or something I believe in.
 
It’s up to each and every one of us how we choose to respond in these situations.  Every one of them involves some level of emotion, and it’s easy to simply react in the moment. To let ourselves blurt out what we think needs saying. But Mister Rogers, in his deliberate, reflective way, at times like these, would ask himself one simple question that guided his response:
 
“What would be the kindest choice?”
 
 
Kindness doesn’t happen unintentionally. You need to direct yourself there. And in those quiet moments of reflection, consider how those on the other end of your response might react.  What would our lives (and even world) look like if we all asked that question of ourselves each day: What would be the kindest choice?  Would we engage in road rage?  Would we shout and scream at our spouse and/or kids?  Would we give the silent treatment to family members or friends who seemed to have wronged us?  Would we not forgive? 
 
If you’re unkind or abrupt, what might they think, do or say? How might that further damage the relationship? How might that in turn hinder any progress you wanted to make?  I often ponder what Anna and Peter think of my use of words and how that impacts the way they think about the world or themselves and how they in turn will use words with others. At times I let my impatience and anger get the best of me. I may take out things unfairly on them or others for something that was my own fault.  I know I fail at times with Amy being short and curt instead of thinking thoughtfully through my words weighing how they will affect her.  Words do hurt.  Our word choice can have lasting intentional or unintentional consequences. 
 
Kindness. Empathy. Patience. These are some of the tenets that guided Mister Rogers every day. And they can guide us too.  Fred had many great quotes about life, faith, kindness and love.  Once he quipped, “There are three ways to ultimate success: The first way is to be kind. The second way is to be kind.  The third way is to be kind.”  It sounds so elementary and so basic and yet isn’t a heavy dose of kindness what we all could put forth in this world?   
 
Some say he was quirky and odd wearing the cardigan sweaters and trying to pretend to be something he wasn’t.  I don’t think he was fake.  He was someone who believed in helping children and making a positive impact in their lives every day.  He impacted mine.  I couldn’t wait as a little boy to see what next adventure he would take me on.  I couldn’t wait to go to the land of “Make-Believe” on Trolley.  I couldn’t wait for Mr. Rogers to say those precious words to me (and everyone else): You’ve made this day a special day, by just your being you. There’s no person in the whole world like you; and I like you just the way you are.  
 
So, what would be the kindest choice for me and you today?  It’s a question that should be on our mirrors, on our phones and devices, in our classrooms, in our workplaces, in our churches, in our homes and in our neighborhoods.  In this crazy season of running ourselves ragged going here and there, shopping, wrapping, cooking, cleaning, traveling, partying and such…in this time when we are meant to prepare our hearts to celebrate the birth of Emmanuel (God with us)…in this time when we are reminded that relationships should come before any gift or present…what if we all became the heroes Fred Rogers thought we were and could be by slowing down and simply being kind?  It actually works.  His life was proof of it.  And I know another person whom Fred adored that lived with kindness, hope and peace: Jesus Christ.   
 
Try it.  Practice asking the question each day: What would be the kindest choice? And then thoughtfully and intentionally do it.   
 
Thank you, Mr. Rogers, for teaching us kindness is really the only way to live a life worth living. Rest in peace, dear neighbor. 
 
~PJ

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