Susan Ciancio ponders how accepting acts of kindness from others is a gift to them and to the community.
Performing an act of kindness is sometimes much easier than accepting an act of kindness. Accepting kindness can be very difficult. But it is actually a gift of immense proportions.
We often find ourselves volunteering to do things for others only to have that person say “No thanks. I’m fine.” Or “Don’t worry about me. I’m okay.” Sometimes our offer of help isn’t as sincere as it should be, as we know the person likely won’t accept. It’s almost like the norms of society demand that we offer, but at the same time, those same norms demand that we turn down the offer for help and remain independent and do things for ourselves.
It can be extremely hard to allow others to do things for us. Sometimes we really want help, but we feel obligated to turn it down because we don’t want someone to go out of his way. Society makes us think that asking a favor of others creates an undue burden on them. We fear taking time away from someone. We fear annoying someone or making him do something he doesn’t actually want to do.
But we forget the great gift it is to be able to take care of others, to act in the person of Christ, and to show people that they matter. When we don’t allow people to do things for us, we deprive them of this wonderful gift. When we do allow others to help us, we are helping them grow as God’s children. We are building a sense of community. We are giving people the ability to derive joy from their service. And we are teaching them love and compassion. This builds a better world. It builds a culture of life. Our acceptance of someone’s kindness is one of the greatest gifts we can give another person.
Acts of kindness really do make a difference. I found that out firsthand recently. My son began his freshman year in college just a few weeks ago at a small Catholic university whose motto is “All for One.” I like to think that, not only does the motto mean all the students for the one family of students, but all the students for the teachings of Christ, as the way they treat each other is steeped in kindness. Since he began, we have seen nothing but a spirit of love, compassion, and family.
Last Friday, my son was ordered to quarantine in his room (with his roommate) because of a possible connection to someone who tested positive for COVID-19. For 14 days, these young men must stay in their 11’x19’ room. Imagine the isolation. Imagine the loneliness just as they were starting to make friends. Imagine the feeling of being left out of something magical that had just begun. Imagine the helplessness of not being able to go anywhere, even to class.
It has been difficult, but just as normal families do, the university family has pulled together. From the amazing baker in the dining hall who made special cookies for my son because he has food allergies, to the young lady (who doesn’t even know my son) who volunteered to take him and his roommate a case of water, we see Christ’s hand. These people went out of their way to do something kind for a fellow human being and expected nothing in return. Their kindness was a gift, and the thankfulness and reception of that gift was, in turn, a gift to them, for it allowed them to make a positive impact.
But sometimes getting someone to accept our offer of help can be tricky. That’s why we must make a sincere effort to reach out to others in a way that assumes they will accept our help.
So, for example, the next time you want to help someone who’s laid up, instead of saying, “Can I do anything?” say, “I’m going to bring you dinner. Which day would you like it, and what’s your favorite meal?” Instead of saying to a single mother who needs childcare, “Let me know if you ever want me to watch the kids,” say, “I’m free both Friday and Saturday so you can go out for a bit. Which day should I come over?”
Phrasing your offer of help in a concrete way lets the person know you truly mean it. This makes it much easier for him to accept your kindness without feeling guilty.
We are all Christ’s children. Helping our brothers and sisters in Christ is important. But allowing our brothers and sisters to help us is equally important. So the next time someone asks if you need help, say “Yes, please,” and feel secure in the fact that your acceptance of his act of kindness is doing as much for him as it is for you. Maybe even more.
And just like my son will never forget those who helped him through a challenging start to his freshman year, the recipients of your gifts of kindness will never forget it. Nor will you forget the joy you felt when you elicited that smile, that tear, that look of gratitude, or that heartfelt hug of thanks. Kindness really does matter. And it works much better when someone accepts it.
About the Author
Susan Ciancio has a BA in psychology and a BA in sociology from the University of Notre Dame and a master’s in liberal studies from Indiana University. For the past 17 years, she has worked as a professional editor and writer. She is executive editor for the Culture of Life Studies Program and editor of ALL's Celebrate Life Magazine.