For the second installment on the Choosing Kindness Series, I wanted to talk about a book I recently read called The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein which is initially seen as a children’s book, but upon reading it through, I find that it contains important themes that are not only applicable to children, but would truly do many adults in our world today some good by reading it.
I won’t go into too much detail about the actual story, but it centers around a boy and his friend of a tree and follows these two “characters” as time passes and life continues on. As the boy grows up, his priorities and desires in life change and in turn, his friendship with the tree alters and develops in response, as the tree continues to give up parts of itself to make the boy happy. For more details, I highly recommend you pick up a copy or go to your local bookstore/library to give it a read!
It’s crazy how such a simple story can contain the amount of insight I received while reading it through. Here are 5 things I think we can often forget when practising kindness and love in our own lives:
1. The greatest act of kindness is sacrifice.
It sounds sort of silly to talk about the sacrificial love of a tree, but we can apply this love to the way we, as people, show love to others. Sacrificial love may be rare these days, but we do see it sometimes -whether that is manifested in the support and love demonstrated by your parents and family or friends.
The boy receiving all these resources from the tree and going on to ignore the tree’s importance and kindness in his life is something I think we can all relate to, whether we have been on the receiving side of such love or are the ones giving it to someone else in our life. All in all, I think it is important to love sacrificially, but also to intentionally recognize and appreciate the people in our own lives when they do sacrifice parts of themselves for us in any way.
2. Love without expectations.
Stemming from the previous point, alongside sacrifice, to love truly is to love without expecting that same kindness back. It can already be difficult showing kindness to others, but to be expected to freely give without receiving the exact same kindness back may go against every fiber of our being and leave us feeling frustrated and even a little cheated of something we deserve.
As people, we have become hard-wired to give with expectations. We are often not aware of this very conditional kindness we possess, but when we give, it is frequently said without words that we are also expecting some equal act of kindness, love, or a favour back from that person in the future. But to love and be kind without keeping score is something I myself need to be constantly reminded of and strive for each day.
3. As much as it’s important to give and serve others, it’s important to receive love and kindness too.
The past 2 points have been about what it means to give love and kindness to others. However, I think it’s often undervalued these days to wholly receive love given to you. While in the story, the boy willingly received so much without even acknowledging the tree’s kind acts, it reminded me of an issue that many of us do tend to resist receiving love. Oftentimes, we think that by receiving love from another person, it can be a selfish act and therefore, we instinctively stop ourselves from receiving that love. Our society and morality tends to place full emphasis on giving, giving, and giving.
However, think about it like this. When we are able to give to others, we can often feel great joy from the act of giving. If we reject love and kindness from others, we are, in short, robbing that person of the same joy we ourselves feel when we give. Even though it may not come easily to you, if you open your heart and genuinely receive someone else’s act of love and kindness, there is generosity and kindness in that act itself.
4. Just be there.
Near the end of the book, when the boy has now become an old man and the tree is now just a stump from giving away most of its entirety, the tree is able to provide companionship and support for the old man, simply just by being there. Because it’s just a stump now, there are no other extravagant acts of service or words it can provide to the old man, but just the tree’s presence itself is now appreciated by the old man.
An aspect of kindness I find very difficult to understand and practise well in my own life is how to support, encourage, and comfort others in my own life. When something tragic happens or misfortune hits, we all want to be that friend who comforts that person, telling them it will all be okay, that everything happens for a reason, to keep their chin up. But -many people have told me, who’ve gone through such experiences, that these things mentioned in the previous sentence can be some of the worst things someone can do for a person who’s gone through a tragic event.
Of course, different things work for each individual -some of these things may very well be the best way to comfort them -but what many have consistently told me is that by simply just being there for the person, even though it’s accompanied by silence, shows the person that you are there for them and support them.
5. Kindness is not just between people, but the relationship between humans and nature is one of the most profound and requires the utmost respect
While the tree in this story is quite humanized, it’s important to remember that this tree is still first, a tree. When you read this story, the boy can be very ignorant of how much the tree is giving of itself to make the boy happy. In the end, what’s left of the once grand and healthy tree is just a stump. I could only help but notice this is pretty accurate of our relationship, as humans, with our earth and planet today. This is not going to turn into some spiel about climate change and sustainability, but I thought it is something we can easily forget about on a day-to-day basis and is important to reflect on -kindness is not only an act exclusive to humans, but what does it mean to be kind to our planet?