1 Thessalonians 1:1-10 and an Excerpt from Make Yourself Happy: Be
Kind By Arthur C. Brooks
October 22nd , 2023
By Rev. Nicole M. Lamarche
Welcome again on and what is in our tradition the twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost! Thank you for showing up for yourself, for one another, building the world we all want today. Welcome to you who are joining on the livestream. I invite you now to take some deeper breaths, as we all hope to hear whatever word God has for us today. God, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
Did Pandemic Policy Make Americans More Aggressive? COVID pandemic made people meaner, lazier: Study says Americans are getting ‘a heck of a lot meaner’
These are just some of the headlines from the news over the last months. And I have heard similar sentiments expressed from teachers and educational professionals, clergy, medical professionals, service workers and others. As I shared, the Federal Aviation Administration had to institute new fines after the pandemic, seeking a way to regulate an increased level of bad behavior among passengers. Last week my husband and daughter went out to get some dinner here in Boulder and as they arrived, a dissatisfied customer overturned an entire table that was set for the next guest as they walked out angry that their order had gotten wrong. Have we gotten meaner?
At the very least it seems we are less patient with one another- less patient with things not going our way and less patient whenever and however life pushes back at us, less willing to tolerate a difference of opinion, less likely to visit with strangers in the checkout line, less interested in hearing what’s going on with someone else.
I have wondered if the pandemic got us comfortable with our curated, customized environments where the world outside was held at bay. It makes sense to me that going that long without having to be regularly annoyed by the brush of human life, might lead us to lose a capacity for being okay with just dealing with others.
Still most of us think we are kind. It turns out that the vast majority of us think that we are good. And according to one study done in Britain, 98% of people believe themselves to be nicer than most. “If this were true (and mathematically possible), we would all constantly be helping our neighbors, getting happier, and wanting to help even more.” (1) So does it even matter if we are kind? It sure appears as if many have decided it doesn’t. May it is something from history that is no longer needed now? To be clear, there is a difference between being kind and being nice. Being nice is a whole lot easier.
From Arthur Brooks again, “kindness and niceness, though both excellent personal qualities, are not the same thing. The former is to be good to others; the latter is about being pleasant. They don’t even have to go together. Some say, for example, that New Yorkers are kind but not nice (“Your tire is flat, you moron—hand me your jack”), in contrast to Californians, who are nice but not kind (“Looks like you’ve got a flat tire there—have a good day!”) We are talking about being kind!
And here’s why I think it matters. From a spiritual perspective and maybe others, I think the world is out of balance right now. That’s how I see it and there are so many reasons why, but one of them is a scarcity of kindness.
What I mean is the heart of kindness is being willing to do good because we believe it is right. And kindness is being not just about yourself. And I wonder if the world gets out of kilter when too many people only care about themselves. I wonder if it’s a spiritual crisis that causes other crises when too many people give up on caring about what’s going on for others, about what’s good for others.
I mean this in big and small ways, in our interpersonal relationships, in our families, here in our faith community and even in nation states, it would change everything if more people were willing to be patient, to hear one another beyond the surface, to do one thing that puts what’s best for that person or people before what is most convenient for us.
It is of course easier to hold a grudge or to complain or gossip than to be willing to connect for a way forward. It is easier to cut out or to say a mean thing or to withhold a kindness when it asks something of us, but what if that is a time for something other than what is easiest or most convenient?
In our lives and in the House of Representatives and in the places of war in our world? I don’t mean to oversimply complex, multilayered things, but I think sometimes we humans tell ourselves the answer to our problems is unknown to us, when the truth is simply that we don’t like the answer.
What if part of what we need right now is something we don’t have to buy, or travel to find or take a class to learn, but rather something we already have, but that must be practiced and cultivated?
What if we all just need more kindness? What if it is our calling right now to be kind when it’s hard, when it would be more convenient to do something else? What if we started to care less about being nice or being seen as nice and started caring more about the action, the being, the doing of good?
This snippet of this letter that Paul sent to the newly forming community in Thessalonica is fascinating and you might remember that Paul’s letters are among the oldest of our Christian sacred texts so they are an incredible window into the beginning of the movement. Paul is writing to them to encourage their efforts and to let them know that they were well received in the places where they are sharing Jesus’ teachings, not just because of the Gospel but because of the kind of people they “proved to be among them” and because they “became an example to all believers” and because they extended a kind of welcome that was notable. They grew the movement not just because of the powerful stories and the presence of Spirit and this new thing where all could belong, but because of how they were with one another. What if Jesus showed us a way that isn’t about being right or believing right, but doing right, being kind in a way that makes kindness grow and flow between us and all creation makes more of it?
More from Arthur Brooks on this happiness loop. One of the most intriguing aspects to me is the science around this pro-social feedback loop. We can create it with kindness. But the problem is it is interrupted by normal things in life. A driver cuts us off. A shopping cart rolls into us. A day that just doesn’t go our way. All of these can cause us to start a negative feedback loop or in some cases keep one going. But here’s the thing, we don’t have to keep that loop going. We can stop a negative one and restart a positive kindness loop! Because it matters. It brings all of us higher. And here’s the other thing, being kind has proven by science to make us happier! (2)
COMMUNAL REFLECTION What do you think?
Beloved of God, let us be more patient with one another and with things not going our way or whenever and however life pushes back at us. Let us tolerate a difference of opinion, let us visit with strangers in the checkout line and make them smile, let us hear what’s going on with someone else’s life. What if we started to care less about
2- In a 2014 paper titled “Trolls Just Want to Have Fun,” three psychologists studied the behavior of people who enjoy posting negative and abusive material on the internet to harass and upset others. The researchers found that trolling correlated positively with malign personality traits such as psychopathy and Machiavellianism (elements of the so-called dark triad). Additional research has shown that about 7 percent of the population can be classified as dark-triad personalities—in other words, the trolls are among us. Even if you don’t have such traits, when you’re punished for your kindness, you’re likely to reciprocate.