When I was relieving my babysitter one evening and while she was bundling up and bracing for the cold, she started to fret about having only one glove. It sounded like there was something to this story and being inquisitive by nature, I asked her how she had come to lose her other glove.
She said that earlier in the evening, while waiting on a subway platform she removed her gloves to retrieve something from her handbag. One of her gloves fell to the floor and as she leaned over to retrieve it a grimy hand shot out from a bundled person in a sleeping bag and grabbed it. At first polite, she said, “Excuse me, that’s my glove. I just dropped it.”
To which the homeless man replied, “I found this glove.”
“You didn’t find it, because it wasn’t lost. I just dropped it. Please give it back,” she argued.
The homeless man was not inclined to give the glove back and my sitter was, let’s say, piqued.
Curious, I asked, “So why didn’t you give him the other glove?”
“Why would I give him my other glove?! I wanted to teach him a lesson and not further encourage that kind of behavior,” she said.
Now I was really confused. I’ve since come to find out that of all those I’ve shared this story with, out of curiosity of what their response would have been, almost everyone would not have given the homeless man the other glove, on principle. But principle aside, one glove does no one any good! I’m sure the homeless man was just happy to have the one glove and withholding the other glove would most assuredly not alter his future behavior. This made me begin to think about when it is appropriate or effective to try and teach a lesson versus when it would be best to simply act in kindness and generosity of heart.
All parents know this struggle, your child has acted out in some way and it is necessary to mete out a deterrent for future misbehavior in some form of punishment. The difficulty is in maintaining the consciousness of kindness while correcting disappointing behavior. Somewhere along the line we think that stubbornly withholding our affection is going to drive home the lesson, making it more memorable somehow. But how can closing our hearts to our children, even in times of punishment, be effective? Certainly I am not saying that bad behavior should be condoned, but we want to be careful to remain kind, even when stern. Believe me, I know just how great a challenge this is. Even in parenting, perhaps especially in parenting, it is more important to be kind than to be right. After all, children learn by what they see, not by what they are told.
One of the most powerful stories about kindness comes from the travels of the kabbalist, the Baal Shem Tov. The way that the Baal Shem Tov and his students travelled was to simply climb aboard his carriage and set the horses loose. No one drove, no one steered, the Baal Shem Tov knew that the Creator would direct the horses to precisely where they needed to be. One Friday afternoon the sun was getting low in the sky and they would need to stop somewhere very soon in order to observe Shabbat. In the distance they saw a very large home and so they began to relax, thinking that surely, this was where they were intended to spend their Shabbat.
However, the horses did not stop. Instead they passed the large manor and came to a stop in front of a dilapidated, mean looking shack from whence emerged a very unkempt, angry man. The Baal Shem Tov was at a complete loss, but trusting that he was meant to be there asked the man if he and his students could be guests in his home for Shabbat.
To say the man wasn’t keen on the idea would be an understatement. He insulted the Baal Shem Tov, and told him he could stay on only one condition, that he do exactly as the man did. When they entered the shack they were greeted with filth and dirty dishes. During Shabbat the man rushed the Baal Shem Tov so much that he was unable to finish his prayers and didn’t connect with the energy of Shabbat. His students sat in stunned silence. The only one who spoke was the rough man who ordered them to hurry or to insult them with foul and disrespectful names. The Baal Shem Tov was in shock, but remained silent. After the last prayers, the man left and the Baal Shem Tov and his students left hastily.
As they made their way to their carriage a women called out in greeting. At first the Baal Shem Tov didn’t recognize her, but she introduced herself as Feigele and reminded him that he and his wife had taken her into their home when she was a child and she had helped his wife in the kitchen. She had been very happy in their home until one day she was found to have head lice and his wife had been forced to comb through her thick, curly hair with a nit comb. The brushing had hurt the girl terribly and she had cried out in pain. His wife had tried to calm her and asked her to be patient, but the girl still wailed and cried out in agony. The Baal Shem Tov had witnessed her distress and had not intervened or sought to comfort the girl.
Despite the incident Feigele still loved the Baal Shem Tov, but after a time she left the Baal Shem Tov’s home and soon after met her husband, who was also a very holy man.
Feigele invited the Baal Shem Tov into her home, the large manor that they had passed on the way to the shack. She then introduced them to her husband, who was none other than the crude, mean man with whom they’d just experienced the most miserable Shabbat!
Feigele explained that her husband had told her with much sadness that because of her, the Baal Shem Tov had lost his place in the world to come, because he had stood by silently while she cried. This crushed Feigele and so she and her righteous husband designed a way for the Baal Shem Tov to reclaim his place in the world to come and that was the purpose of that terrible Shabbat ordeal where he was kept from tasting the Light of Shabbat.
The Baal Shem Tov was a righteous man who dedicated his life to sharing with others. So for him to lose his place in heaven because he did not respond with kindness to a crying girl is such a powerful lesson in the importance of being kind. There are consequences, whether we immediately see them or not, for withholding our kindness. The best practice is to just always be as kind as you can, no matter what the circumstance.THOUGHT INTO ACTION
Where aren’t you kind? Is there an area of your life or person that you have hardened your heart toward? Just be kind, no matter all the reasons you may feel justified in not doing so.