The Most Important Thing

By Rev. Dr. Faith J. Conklin

Ignacy Paderewski was an internationally famous pianist and also a renowned statesman. Early in his career he agreed to play a concert organized by two Stanford University students working their way through school. They were told they’d have to guarantee the artist a fee of $2,000. The concert was held. Although they worked hard, the students came up with only $1,600. Discouraged, they gave Paderewski the $1,600 with a note promising to pay him the balance. Paderewski gave them back the $1,600. “Take your expenses out of this. Give yourselves each 10% of what’s left for your work. Let me have the rest.”

Years later, Paderewski had to find a way to feed the people of his war-ravaged Poland. Thousands of tons of food were sent to Poland by the United States. Paderewski later traveled to Paris to thank President Herbert Hoover, who’d helped with the US relief effort. “That’s all right, Mr. Paderewski,” said Hoover, “I knew the need was great.”

Then he added, “Besides, though you may not remember it, I was one of those two college students whom you generously helped when I was in need.”

It was an act of grace and generosity on Paderewski’s part.  He chose to be kind. He chose to set aside his “right” for the sake of two struggling students. His act helped save thousands of others.

Someone wrote: Most of us only think; “If I help them, what would happen to me?” The truly great people think, “If I don’t help them, what will happen to them?

Too often we underestimate the impact of our actions. We surrender to the idea that our prime directive is to ensure our own safety and security. We don’t want to move beyond our comfort zones.  We hold back our impulses of kindness and compassion for fear of seeming foolish. When someone hurts or angers us, we retaliate rather than trying to restore the relationship.

What if we had a different view? What it we evaluated our words and choices in terms of their impact on the greater good? What if we saw each other not as adversaries but as part of a wide human community? What if we put the rights, needs, and concerns of others on a par with our own?  What if we saw our task as encouraging one another rather than tearing each other down?

Author Henry James said, “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.” Where can you show compassion? To whom can you be kind?

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