Kindness endures by changing the world a little bit at a time. Ten years ago, in April of 2013, I felt a distinct loss when Roger Ebert, my favorite movie critic, passed away. I felt like I had lost a friend. We did not have a personal relationship, as we never met or exchanged words. But I had been reading Roger Ebert’s words and opinions continuously since I was 10 years old, more than 55 years ago. Roger wrote like he was speaking to you. He wrote because he cared deeply about the world.
When you read Roger Ebert’s words, which are still worth reading, you learn not only his opinion about a particular film, you learn about humanity. He blended his passion about life into his reviews, sometimes with subtlety and sometimes with joy.
In 2011, in his memoir, entitled “Life Itself,” he wrote the following, which still inspires me:
“Kindness’ covers all of my political beliefs. No need to spell them out. I believe that if, at the end, according to our abilities, we have done something to make others a little happier, and something to make ourselves a little happier, that is about the best we can do. To make others less happy is a crime. To make ourselves unhappy is where all crime starts. We must try to contribute joy to the world. That is true no matter what our problems, our health, our circumstances. We must try. I didn’t always know this and am happy I lived long enough to find it out.”
We still do not emphasize kindness or acknowledge its ability to improve all lives as often as we should. Roger Ebert wrote about kindness by recognizing it as a courageous act. When you act kindly towards others, without expecting anything in return, you take the chance to contribute joy.
Henry James wrote, “Three things in human life are important: the first is to be kind; the second is to be kind; and the third is to be kind.”
Mark Twain said, “Kindness is a language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.”
Lao Tzu, the ancient Chinese philosopher, stated, “Kindness in words creates confidence. Kindness in thinking creates profoundness. Kindness in giving creates love.”
Most people do not consider kindness a necessary quality in the legal profession. Lawyers advocate zealously, they champion their clients, they fight the legal battle. Highly skilled lawyers are characterized as sharks, predators who feast on most everything in their vicinity.
However, there is a place for kindness in the law, as in life. Kindness means being considerate, sympathetic, understanding, humane. In 2003, the American Film Institute listed the 50 greatest heroes in movie history. The greatest hero – beating out James Bond, John Wayne, and Indiana Jones – was Atticus Finch, the lawyer portrayed by Gregory Peck in “To Kill a Mockingbird.”
Atticus Finch practiced law as a profession, with profound regard for his innocent client, Tom Robinson, who was wrongly convicted and subsequently killed. In one of the most memorable lines in the movie (and in Harper Lee’s book), Atticus tells his daughter, “If you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you'll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view, until you climb inside of their skin and walk around in it."
Trying to understand another person – respecting them, treating them with dignity, being humane – is an act of kindness. As Roger Ebert reminded us, anyone who practices kindness makes the world a better place, even lawyers.
“We must try to contribute joy to the world. That is true no matter what our problems, our health, our circumstances. We must try.”
I miss Roger Ebert’s humor, insight, and humanity. But I am thankful I can still read him, and thankful that his words will always matter.
Have the courage to be kind. Change the world for the better.