Learning How to be Thoughtful
Thoughtfulness seems to be natural with some people. They do not have to learn it. They are considerate of others and never give needless trouble or pain.
But there are many people who seem altogether to lack this grace. They appear to have no thought of the sensibilities of others. They think only of their own pleasure, and say and do what their own impulses prompt — never asking what the effect may be upon those about them.
There are abundant illustrations of this in our common life. In many homes the fellowship is marred by constant exhibitions of this thoughtless spirit.
Family life should be a blending of all the tastes, dispositions, talents, gifts and resources of all the members of the household. Each one should live for the others, and in each there should be habitual self-restraint.
No one may live in a home circle as if he were dwelling alone in the big house, with only himself to think about. He should keep himself under constant discipline for the sake of the other members. He should do many things which he might not need to do if he were alone, because he is a member of a little community whose happiness and good he is to seek at every point. No family life can ever be truly ideal, when everyone does as he pleases.
Yet many people forget this. They consider no one's comfort, peace, or pleasure — but their own. They let their own impulses have full and free expression. They make no effort to repress any elements or dispositions in themselves, which would prove disagreeable to the others. They demand all their rights, forgetting that the other members of the family have rights too, and that home happiness can be secured only by the mutual surrender of rights, each deferring to the others, each seeking not to be ministered unto — but to minister.
Thoughtfulness is thinking of others and so modifying one's conduct as to avoid whatever would give trouble, inconvenience, or hurt to others.
There is a story of a boy and his canary bird. From morning until night the bird sang, its song filling all the house. But the mother fell ill — so ill that even the singing of the bird disturbed and distressed her. The boy put the bird away into a part of the house as distant as possible from the sick room, thinking that the sound could not reach his mother's ears there. But one morning, as the child stood holding the mother's hand, the bird began to sing and the notes came into the chamber, though very faintly. But as he watched the sufferer's face, he saw an expression of pain sweep over it. The mother said nothing — but the boy needed no words to tell him that the bird's singing was distressing her. "It is no music to me," he said, "if it pains my mother." So he took the cage and, carrying it to a neighbor's, left it there until the mother was well. "But you love the bird," his mother said when she learned what he had done. "Yes," he replied, "but I love you more."
That was a beautiful thing to do. It told of true thoughtfulness in the child. He sacrificed his own pleasure, because the gratifying of it gave pain to one who was dear to him.
This is the spirit which should characterize everyone. We should deny ourselves the indulgence of tastes which are offensive to our friends. We should cut off the habits which hurt sensitive hearts whose happiness is dear to us. We should put away the things in us, whatever they may be, which give pain to our loved ones.
Some people seem to have a genius for making others miserable. They are continually touching gentle hearts so as to give them pain. They are always saying things which sting and irritate. If you have any bodily defect, they never see you without, in some rude way, making you conscious of it. They lack all delicacy of feeling, having no eye for the things in others which demand gentleness.
Thoughtfulness is the reverse of all this. It simply does not do the things which thoughtlessness does. It avoids the painful subject. It never alludes to the clubfoot or the humpback, never casts an eye at the defect, nor does anything to call attention to it or to make the man conscious of it. It respects your sorrow, and refrains from rudely touching your wound. It has the utmost kindliness of feeling and expression. A gentleman has been defined as one who never needlessly gives pain to another.
Thoughtfulness has also an active side. It does not refrain merely; it finds opportunity for continued acts of kindness and goodwill. It does not wait to be asked for sympathy or help — but has eyes of its own, sees every need, and meets it unsolicited. When a friend is in sorrow, the thoughtful man is ready with his comfort. He does not come next day, when the need is past — but is prompt when kindness means something.
Thoughtfulness is one of the best tests of a fine character. Thoughtlessness is rudeness, boorishness, cold-heartedness. Thoughtfulness is refined. It is love working in all delicate ways. Thoughtlessness is "lack of heart," and he who has a gentle heart cannot but be thoughtful.
People continually say, "I didn't think!" when they suddenly become aware that some heedless act or careless word of theirs has given pain to a gentle heart. Too often thoughtfulness is an afterthought. But we should try to get it in its true place where it will become motive and inspiration to gentleness.
It is infinitely better that thoughtfulness should strew our friends' paths with flowers, than that regret should pile floral offerings on their coffins. We would better try to get our kindnesses done when they will do good, giving cheer and encouragement — and not keep them back until there is no need for them. We can set no better lesson for ourselves than this of getting the grace of thoughtfulness into our lives as part of our spiritual culture; and the time to develop this habit most easily, is when we are young.