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That best portion of a good man’s life,
His little, nameless, unremembered acts,
Of kindness and of love.
REAL GREATNESS OFTEN GOES UNRECOGNIZED. The standards by which greatness is judged are often such that individuals with nothing more than a bit of outward glitter make the headlines while others with deeper, more enduring qualities are written off as nobodies. Benevolence, for example, is one of the time-honored qualities of truly great character, but because it’s usually quiet and unassuming, benevolence doesn’t usually land people in the spotlight of greatness. It’s a great quality, but its greatness often goes unrecognized.
In its most literal sense, benevolence means “good will.” It’s the opposite of malevolence, which means “ill will.” But in practical terms, benevolence means more than simply wishing someone well. It’s an active thing that moves us to go ahead and do the helpful thing we feel inclined to do. The benevolent person is not the one whose heart is warmed by generous feelings for the human race, but rather the one who gets up and actually does a good deed for the member of the human race who lives next door to him.
The major components of benevolence are compassion and kindness, and these qualities are sorely needed in the broken world we live in, are they not? Against the rising tide of indifference, cynicism, and non-involvement, we need to hold on to hearts that can be moved by the sufferings of other people, and we ought to learn how to help others in the gentlest, kindest way possible.
If we’re going to be benevolent, we’re going to have to choose to be so. As Mencius said, “Benevolence, righteousness, propriety, and knowledge are not infused into us from without.” These things are virtues we must choose to include in our character.
Learning to be benevolent requires practice, and not many days go by that don’t present us with opportunities to do that. What are we waiting for? The good that comes from showing goodwill is too good to save up for the big situations. Benevolence is an everyday quality!
“Do not wait for extraordinary circumstances to do good actions; try to use ordinary situations” (Jean Paul Richter).