You can tell a lot about someone by observing how they treat people whom they don’t have to be kind to. 

I’ve read that when you’re interviewing someone for a job, it helps to have a meal with them in a public restaurant because then you can observe how the interviewee treats the waitstaff. You can also tell a lot about someone by observing how they treat the custodial staff at the office, or those who are low on the org. chart. You can tell a lot about someone by observing how he treats people whom he doesn’t have to be kind to. It provides a subtle but accurate glimpse into how the person values people and how he is likely to treat them. 

Much of what I write about in these posts is autobiographical—not just things I’m thinking about but issues that I struggle with. I take these lessons/suggestions personal. So I’ve been asking myself: am I kind and considerate to people who are “unseen”?

Kindness should be blind, unconditional, and indiscriminate. When we demonstrate kindness to those who are least expecting it, the impact can be profound. The following story speaks of the power of a random act of kindness.  

The African bishop, Desmond Tutu, was once asked why he became an Anglican rather than joining some other denomination. He replied that in the days of apartheid, when a black person and a white person met while walking on a footpath, the black person was expected to step into the gutter to allow the white person to pass and then nod his head as a gesture of respect.

“One day,” Tutu said, “when I was just a little boy, my mother and I were walking down the street when a tall, white man, dressed in a black suit, came toward us. Before my mother and I could step off the sidewalk, as was expected of us, this man stepped off the sidewalk and, as my mother and I passed, tipped his hat in a gesture of respect to her. I was more than surprised at what had happened, and I asked my mother, ‘Why did that white man do that?’ My mother explained, ‘He’s an Anglican priest. He’s a man of God, that’s why he did it.’ When she told me that he was an Anglican priest, I decided there and then that I wanted to be an Anglican priest too. And what is more, I wanted to be a man of God.”

Bishop Desmond Tutu was one of the key contributors to the abolishment of apartheid in South Africa.

Dance like no one’s watching…because no one is.

The only opportunity I have to dance in public is when I’m on a cruise ship. At least daily, there’s a venue that features live music and a dance floor. I’m untrained in dancing so it’s not a pretty sight, but it’s relaxing, almost cathartic. On our recent trip on the Queen Mary 2, Mary occasionally danced with me but my nine-year-old grandson refused. I tried to bribe and cajole him, but he wouldn’t budge. I appealed to his sense of logic, saying, “Ben, no one is going to notice you.” But that didn’t work either. 

There’s a fundamental and helpful thought lying at the core of the phrase, “Dance like no one’s watching…because no one is.” Don’t be overly concerned or restrained by worrying about what other people might think of your actions, because they probably don’t even notice. Another lesson is: If it gives you pleasure, don’t hesitate to do something you’re not good at. 

Some of us go through life being inordinately self-conscious. We worry about what we’re wearing, what we’re saying, and what people think of us. The reality is, most people don’t think of us often and don’t care about what we do, so we shouldn’t be overly concerned. 

Of course, we should defer to social norms, manners, and protocol—that’s called social intelligence. But maintain a balance between what your culture deems as normal and acceptable and what your heart wants to do. Periodically, cut the rug.

There’s no value in thinking the same thought twice unless it gives you pleasure or instruction.

We all have mental tapes that play over and over in our minds. Memories of past events. Monologues that we continually speak to imaginary people. Some of the tapes are positive and give us peace and pleasure. Others replay challenging and troubling thoughts. 

I’m trying to discipline myself to never have the same thought twice unless it gives me pleasure or instruction. 

For instance, I allow myself unlimited playback of these fond memories:

    • Traveling — a picnic with Sarah and Mary near the top of the Swiss Alps. In Santorini, drinking Assyrtiko wine looking into the water-filled caldera. Sleeping on an overnight train from Budapest to Vienna.
    • Time with my grandchildren — burying treasure chests for Benjamin to find; swimming with Ben on the Queen Mary 2; rocking Claire to sleep.
    • Moments of deep worship — musical moments with the Stonebriar choir and orchestra; quiet moments alone in the woods.
    • Moments with Mary — celebrating New Year’s Eve in Times Square; having our first child; building our first house. 

I try to stop the mental tapes that are troubling or upsetting.

    • Interpersonal conflicts with family members or acquaintances 
    • Painful experiences from the past
    • Anxiety about the future
    • Conversations that were contentious 

Sometimes, when a negative tape is playing, I literally tap my finger on a hard object, as if I’m punching stop on a playback machine. This physical move helps me stop the tape and redirect my mind.  

The Apostle Paul put it this way; “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (Philippians 4:8 NIV).

Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.

The expression “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me,” has its origins in the 1600s. The idea is found in a book written by Anthony Weldon in 1651 titled The Court and Character of King James. Weldon writes, “The Italians have a Proverb, ‘He that deceives me once, it’s his fault. He that deceives me twice, it’s my fault.’”

After being tricked once, we should learn from our mistakes and avoid being tricked in the same way again.

There are multiple iterations of this proverb: Fool me once…Hurt me once…Abuse me once…Forsake me once…it’s your fault. But if I allow you to do it again, I bear some responsibility. 

Titus 2:15 warns against being taken advantage of: “Do not let anyone despise you” (NIV). Another version reads, “See that no one disrespects you.” In Paul’s letter to Titus, he gives his young mentee permission to defend himself, and to reject abuse and mistreatment. This is the Word of the Lord.

I know this verse has to be balanced with Jesus’ teaching as recorded in Matthew 5: “Whosoever gives you a blow on your right cheek, turn to him the other,” and, “Blessed are you when men revile you, and persecute you, and falsely say all manner of evil things against you for my sake.” I’ll defer to theologians regarding how these seemingly disparate verses can be reconciled, but for now, let’s focus on Paul’s advice to Timothy.

There are times in our lives when we need to resist those who mistreat us. Often the only way to stop a bully is to stand up to him and push back. Just ignoring him and tolerating the abuse will empower him and encourage him to continue. When being mistreated, it’s okay to say, “That’s enough. I will no longer tolerate the way you’re treating me.” 

We tend to think bullying occurs most often to children in school or on the playground. But adults are susceptible as well. Sometimes bullying involves serious offenses like emotional or physical abuse. But more subtle forms should also be addressed. For instance, I have a friend who was always late to every appointment we had, sometimes as much as 20 minutes. I finally confronted him, we talked it out, and the issue was resolved.

Are you subject to ongoing abuse, either mild or severe? If so consider removing yourself from the situation or at least have a frank talk with the perpetuator.