The Bank of Human Kindness Is Still Open

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Photo by Ferran Fusalba Roselló on Unsplash

When I get up in the morning, I can usually tell early on what kind of banking day it’s going to be. If I’ve slept well and feel rested, I might make a deposit, but if I stayed up late the night before and slept only intermittently, I will need to make a withdrawal.

What bank am I talking about? The bank of human kindness. Like most financial institutions, this particular bank depends on its depositors to keep it afloat. If enough people make regular deposits, the bank thrives. But if people are not willing to invest in their community, the bank will slowly deteriorate and eventually close its doors.

The deposits themselves come in all forms. For example, when I’m kind to other people, that’s a deposit. Every time I say “hello” or initiate a conversation, I’m adding to the bank’s resources. Every time I compliment someone or encourage another in some way, I am simultaneously adding to my individual account and to the bank’s bottom line. And if I physically help someone or invite someone to share a meal or an activity, I’m depositing goodwill into the community.

What happens on those bad days when I need to make a withdrawal? Well, those days, naturally, are a bit more difficult. Instead of reaching out to others with a smile or a greeting, I’m silently looking downward, walking to my destination, simply trying to get through the day. On really bad days, I might resort to insults and criticism of others to try and lift myself up, a technique that never really works. And, rather than assist those in need, I pretend not to see their travails, and I look out only for myself. All of those actions are withdrawals because I’m essentially removing myself, my energy, and my abilities from the common resource that makes up our wellspring of kindness.

Fortunately, those sad withdrawal days can be turned around if someone else makes a deposit. If someone happens to notice that I’m struggling and then reaches out to me, that person’s deposit can encourage me and, perhaps, prevent future withdrawals on my part. After all, if too many of us become so focused on our own isolated lives, we are essentially draining our reservoir and causing a “run” on the bank, a run that could bankrupt all of us.

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Image from Wikipedia

Do you remember the scene in the film It’s a Wonderful Life when all the depositors fear that their bank is closing, so they want to remove all their funds immediately? If that had actually happened, those at the head of the line would have walked away happy, but most of the others would have been disappointed, frustrated, angry, or worse, and a riot could have ensued.

Fortunately, banker George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart) demonstrated an unbelievable kindness of his own. He used his honeymoon money and his persuasive skills to convince his customers that they didn’t need all of their funds at that moment, so all the customers withdrew only what they needed for that day, they all walked away satisfied, and the bank survived.

At times today, when I read the news or see online posts, tweets, and conversations, I begin to worry that a run on the bank of human kindness is occurring. In the midst of all the political turmoil, I fear that too many of us are getting swept up in the frenzy of a potential closing. And I tremble at the possibility of kindness disappearing altogether. Mercifully, though, that doesn’t happen.

When I’m in line to make a withdrawal, I’m often surprised by a deposit of kindness to my account, a deposit made by another on my behalf: a sweet word of thanks from a grateful student, an actual letter in my mailbox from an old friend, or a small gift from a neighbor. These mall gifts of kindness keep the bank alive and thriving, and they inspire me to do the same for others. Jesus Himself said it best with the Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (Matthew 7:12).

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Jim LaBate works as a writing specialist in The Writing Center at Hudson Valley Community College (HVCC) in Troy, New York.

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