I believe there are a few characteristics that -- if we could all accept and make a part of our lives -- would make the world a much better place. In fact, if we could teach these in our schools and in our homes -- and if the lessons could be learned and practiced -- we might find ourselves living in what some might call paradise.
The characteristics I am speaking of include compassion, kindness, gentleness, patience, and humility. The problem is, these traits are hard for many of us. They all battle the very core of our own natural selfishness.
But what do we really know about each of these characteristics?
Compassion is commonly thought of as having a deep awareness of the suffering of another coupled with the wish to relieve it. However, I believe it goes past that simple definition. I think compassion is a form of love which is aroused within us when we are confronted with those who suffer or are vulnerable. Compassion often produces the desire to alleviate the suffering, though circumstances such as means or location sometimes keep us from taking any action at all.
We see kindness as the act of going out of one's way to be nice to someone or show a person you care. In truth, it is an attribute that is not consistently found in humans. The biggest problem I see in understanding what kindness really means is that it is one of those terms that overlaps with others. It is not always distinguishable from words such as mercy, grace, pity, love, favor, or even compassion and tenderness. Suffice it to say kindness is a very desirable quality.
And we characterize gentleness as a value and quality in one's character that embodies kindness, consideration, and the ability to get along with others -- being amiable in our dealings with others. I believe gentleness also means recognizing that the world around us is fragile, especially other people. It is recognizing our own capacity to do harm and choosing instead to be tender, soft-spoken, soft-hearted, and careful. However, being gentle doesn't mean being weak; gentleness can be firm, even powerful at times.
When we think of patience - which seems to be a hard attribute for many of us to master - as the capacity or ability to accept or tolerate delay, trouble, or suffering without getting angry or upset. I also believe that, in a spiritual sense, patience means that we stop ourselves from despairing, panicking, complaining, or otherwise ranting and raving during times of grief or stress, or when things don't seem to be going our way. Simple stated, patience can be summed up as tolerant and even-tempered perserverance combined with the capacity for calmly enduring pain or trying situations.
I saved humility for last because I think it is one of the hardest characteristics for us to understand. Frankly, I believe most people have the wrong idea about humility, or being humble. They think being humble means groveling in front of others or thinking we're no good and others are good. That's not what humility is at all.
When we are humble, we are free from pride and arrogance; we know that in our flesh we are inadequate. If we are truly humble, we also know who we are in Christ. We don't need to defend ourselves when we understand the true spirit of humility. We are able to be peacemakers without needing to fight for our rights. We are able to walk humbly in the power of who we are spiritually and not our own personal power.
True humility is being comfortable with who we are in the Christ, which allows us to put others first. The meaning of true humility is one of loving others, not being a wimp. And without true humility, we are hard pressed to maintain the four attributes listed above. Compassion, kindness, gentleness, and patience should all spring forth from our own life of humility.
I would like to take full credit for this list of honorable and much needed personality traits, but I must admit that I found them listed during a recent reading through the epistles of the Apostle Paul.
"Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience." Colossians 3:12.