Reality Check: The Unexpected Kindness

Asparagus season reminds me of an incident that’s been a helpful example for me over the years.
One spring long ago, when the emerging asparagus was at its peak, I had invited some acquaintances for dinner. Among my guests was Paula, known as a “foodie” because of her organic farm and gourmet knowledge. From my youthful perspective, she was both fascinating and intimidating.
While chatting with me in the kitchen, Paula talked about the joy of asparagus. When it’s perfectly cooked, tender-crisp, there’s nothing else like it.
At that time, multi-tasking was well beyond me, and I certainly couldn’t manage cooking and talking at the same time. When I turned away from our sparkling conversation to take the lid off the asparagus pot, Paula and I simultaneously peered in. What did we see? A soggy, over-cooked mess.
Without missing a beat, Paula said, “But it’s good this way too!”
It was a small kindness, done to smooth over the embarrassment of a novice cook and hostess. Paula had options. She could have said nothing. She could have snickered. She could have turned away with unspoken disdain. If she wanted to be truly ungracious, she could have criticized the dish in front of the guests.
But she didn’t. Paula’s choice was for me to save face.
This was a long time ago, and I’ve forgotten everything else about that evening. I’ve called her Paula, but I don’t remember her name. And I have no recollection of what might have led to my hosting this event in the first place.
However, what I haven’t forgotten was that unexpected kindness. We frequently interact with people; small conversations of little consequence. We often have no idea of the effect of our words and actions. It’s easy to assume that they are meaningless.
But that may not be the case. Paula will never know how I appreciated that unexpected kindness when she could so easily have been hurtful.
We often have a choice—to be kind or unkind. We might not believe we are being unkind when we imply superiority. In fact, we may have superior knowledge, experience, or skill in the activity at hand. However, we can choose to interact in a way that discourages and humiliates, or that encourages and uplifts.
One could argue, “But if I don’t point out your errors, how will you ever learn?”
It’s a valid point. But this was not a cooking class. While any time can be a learning opportunity (and I certainly learned from that experience!) we need not always be the teacher, critic or corrector.
This tiny example is indicative of a larger mindset; one that chooses not to hurt someone even when it’s easy to do; even when it’s perhaps deserved.
This is not to suggest that we praise poor performance. However, sometimes we excuse our hurtful comments because we are mean them to be “constructive criticism.” We just want to help, and to do that, we need to let people know the brutal truth.
It’s true; sometimes brutal truth is necessary. However, there are times when it’s both kinder and more effective to say, “But it’s good this way too.”
How do you decide whether to be kind or critical? And how do you cook your asparagus?

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