We have more than once, in our rapidly written reflections, urged the habit and propriety of kindness, courtesy, and good-will between man and man. It is so easy for an individual to manifest amenity of spirit, to avoid harshness, and thus to cheer and gladden the paths of all over whom he may have influence or control, that it is really surprising to find anyone pursuing the very opposite course.
Strange as it may appear, there are among men, hundreds who seem to take delight in making others unhappy. They rejoice at an opportunity of being the messengers of evil tidings. They are jealous or malignant; and in either case they exult in inflicting a wound.
The ancients, in most nations, had a peculiar dislike to prophets of evil, and the bearers of evil tidings. It is recorded that the messenger from the banks of the Tigris, who first announced the defeat of the Roman army by the Persians, and the death of the Emperor Julian, in a Roman city of Asia Minor, was instantly buried under a heap of stones thrown upon him by an indignant populace. And yet this messenger was innocent, and reluctantly discharged a painful duty.
But how different the spirit and the motive of volunteers in such cases — those who exult in an opportunity of communicating bad news, and in some degree revel over the very agony which it produces. The sensitive, the generous, the honorable, would ever be spared from such painful missions. A case of more recent occurrence may be referred to as in point. We allude to the murder of Mr. Roberts, a farmer of New Jersey, who was robbed and shot in his own wagon, near Camden. It became necessary that the sad news should be broken to his wife and family with as much delicacy as possible. A neighbor was selected for the task, and at first consented. But, on consideration, his heart failed him. He could not, he said, communicate the details of a tragedy so appalling and he begged to be excused. Another, formed it was thought of sterner stuff, was then fixed upon: but he too, rough and bluff as he was in his ordinary manners, possessed the heart of a generous and sympathetic human being, and also respectfully declined. A third made a like objection, and at last a female friend of the family was with much difficulty persuaded, in company with another, to undertake the mournful task.
And yet, we repeat, there are in society, individuals who delight in contributing to the misery of others — who are eager to circulate a slander, to chronicle a ruin, to revive a forgotten error, to wound, sting, and annoy, whenever they may do so with impunity. How much better the gentle, the generous, the magnanimous policy! Why not do everything that may be done for the happiness of our fellow creatures, without seeking out their weak points, irritating their half-healed wounds, jarring their sensibilities, or embittering their thoughts!
The magic of kind words and a kind manner can scarcely be over-estimated. Our fellow creatures are more sensitive than is generally imagined. We have known cases in which a gentle courtesy has been remembered with pleasure for years. Who indeed cannot look back into "bygone time," and discover some smile, some look or other demonstration of regard or esteem, calculated to bless and brighten every hour of after existence!
"Kind words," says an eminent writer, "do not cost much. It does not take long to utter them. They never blister the tongue or lips on their passage into the world, or occasion any other kind of bodily suffering; and we have never heard of any mental trouble arising from this quarter. Though they do not cost much — yet they accomplish much:
1. They help one's own good nature and good will. One cannot be in a habit of this kind, without thereby pecking away something of the granite roughness of his own nature. Soft words will soften his own soul. Philosophers tell us that the angry words a man uses in his passion, are fuel to the flame of his anger, and make it blaze the more fiercely. Why, then, should not words of the opposite character produce opposite results, and that most blessed of all passions of the soul, kindness, be augmented by kind words? People that are forever speaking kindly, are forever disinclining themselves to ill-temper.
2. Kind words make other people good-natured.
Cold words freeze people, and
hot words scorch them, and
sarcastic words irritate them, and
bitter words make them bitter, and
angry words make them angry.
And kind words also produce their own image on men's souls; and a beautiful image it is. They soothe, and quiet, and comfort the hearer. They shame him out of his sour, morose, unkind feelings; and he has to become kind himself. There is such a rush of all other kinds of words in our days, that it seems desirable to give kind words a chance among them. There are vain words, idle words, hasty words, spiteful words, silly words, and empty words. Now kind words are better than the whole of them; and it is a pity that, among the improvements of the present age, birds of this feather might not have more of a chance than they have had to spread their wings!
It is indeed! Kind words should be brought into more general use. Those in authority should employ them more frequently, when addressing the less fortunate among mankind. Employers should use them in their fellowship with their workmen. Parents should utter them on every occasion to their children. The rich should never forget an opportunity of speaking kindly to the poor. Neighbors and friends should emulate each other in the employment of mild, gentle, frank, and kindly language.
But this cannot be done unless each endeavors to control his tongue. Our passions and our prejudices must be kept in check. If we find that we have a neighbor on the other side of the way, who has been more fortunate in a worldly sense than we have been, and if we discover a little jealousy or envy creeping into our opinions and feelings concerning said neighbor — let us be careful, endeavor to put a bridle upon our tongues, and to avoid the indulgence of malevolence or ill-will.
If we, on the other hand, have been fortunate, have enough and to spare, and there happens to be in our circle some who are dependent upon us, some who look up to us with love and respect — let us be generous, courteous, and kind — and thus we shall not only discharge a duty, but prove a source of happiness to others.