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I’ve been thinking a lot about kindness lately. Does kindness depend on the eye of the beholder?  Does kindness have personal boundaries? Should it? Is intended kindness enough?

An Act of Kindness – version #1

It was a blowy winter day in March, and I was enjoying a walk in the nearby park, along the East River. A gust of wind lifted the hat right off the head of the woman walking in front of me. I rushed on ahead to get the hat, before it could be blown too far, or perhaps even into the river.

Success! I grabbed the hat and returned it to its owner, who thanked me profusely. We’ve smiled at each other ever since, whenever we see each other on the street.

An Act of Kindness – version #2

It was a blowy winter day in March, and I was enjoying a walk in the nearby park, along the East River. A gust of wind lifted the hat right off the head of the woman walking in front of me. I rushed on ahead to get the hat, before it could be blown too far, or perhaps even into the river.

Success! I grabbed the hat and returned it to its owner, who was surprisingly miffed at me. “Look, I appreciate that you got my hat back, but what made you think I couldn’t handle this myself?” she asked as she took the hat from my hands, shaking off the dust. “Who asked you to interfere in my business?”

An Act of Kindness – version #3

It was a blowy winter day in March, and I was enjoying a walk in the nearby park, along the East River. A gust of wind lifted the hat right off the head of the woman walking in front of me. I rushed on ahead to get the hat, before it could be blown too far, or perhaps even into the river.

But just as I reached for it, a new gust of wind lifted it into the river. I returned to tell the woman that I was sorry; I tried my best, but failed. She not only was miffed, but went on to tell me that she had relied on me once I showed I was going to retrieve the hat and therefore didn’t act herself. “Maybe I would have gotten the hat,” she told me. “What made you think it was your responsibility to go after MY hat? I counted on you and you let me down.”

Is Intention All That Matters with Kindness?

Ok. Odds are if this ever really happened, the outcome would be the one depicted in Version 1. But I used these examples to help open up a discussion about intended kindness versus received kindness.

Sometimes what we think of as a kind act toward another person may in effect turn out to be (1) viewed by the other person as interfering or making assumptions for them without asking or maybe simply not giving them a chance to work things out for themselves; or (2) something we are doing mostly to feel good about ourselves – without giving much value to boundaries, nor the receiver’s real needs or feelings.

This is not to say in any way shape or form that we therefore should just sit back and not do anything to help others. I think true kindness is something that lives on and on and feeds all our spirits – and we sure could use a lot more of it in this world.

Still, there are times when we act in a way we think / hope is kind, and yet it lands like a lead balloon, for whatever reason. And maybe … just maybe … we were kinda meddling a little, for “their own good.” Does that negate the kindness? I’m not sure. But no matter what our intention might be, I am certain that we can’t be responsible for how other people react.  We can only act.

So perhaps our best bet is to stop long enough to make sure of our real intentions – while also checking on any personal boundaries we might be crossing. And then simply act from our hearts. If the other person receives our intended kindness in a way that surprises us, no blame on either end. We can’t control an act of kindness – or anything else we do or say – once it leaves us.

What do you think? Are there boundaries in kindness? How can you tell what’s really kind and what may be stepping over some line? Does it matter? Your thoughts and stories welcome!