This has long been one of my favorite articles. It is an essay that explains some specific ways to become a more loving, gracious person. I came across it on the web recently (here) and wanted to share (I'm so glad I didn't have to type it all in).
As a mom, finding ways to help my children feel more important and loved is a constant effort on my part, I am always hoping to improve in this area. This specific article has often come to mind in certain situations and helped me to choose a response that will be uplifting to those around me. I have a long way to go, but haven't given up yet.
and FYI, it's a little long, but worth the read:
Rewards of a Gracious Heart
from July 1969 Reader’s Digest (Pages 116-118)
On the way to Inverness, Scotland, several years ago, a big jawboned farm woman sitting beside me on the bus asked why an American should travel north in the dead of winter. “It’s rooky weather in the Highlands”.
I explained that I liked wild weather and that I was gathering material for a historical novel, talking to country people, soaking up sheep-lore and folkways that have changed little in four centuries.
She invited me to visit her overnight. “We’ve a wee croft, but warm, and I’d welcome your company, for my husband’s off to market.”
It was raining hard when we reach her home, a dumpy stone cottage on a bleak slope. Collies welcomed us, and Mrs. McIntosh led me into a spotless, shabby parlor.
Suddenly, the lights flickered and died. She sighed, “The power’s out,” and lit candles. While she was making a fire there was a knock on the door.
She opened it and a boy came in. She took his dripping coat and cap, and as he move into the fire light I saw that he was about 12 years old - pitifully crippled.
After he caught his breath, he said, “My father tried to ring you, but your phone is dead. I came to see that you’re all right.”
“Thank you, John,” she said, and introduced us. The wind rose, raving and screaming, battering the shutters. I told them how much I loved the drama of the storm.
“You’re not scared?” John asked. I started to say no, but Mrs. McIntosh, though obviously afraid of nothing, quickly said what any boy longs to hear, “Of course she was scared, and so was I. But now we have got a mon aboot.”
There was a moment’s silence.
Then he rose. “I’ll see that everything’s snug,” he said. And he hobbled out with a little swagger.
Weeks later the incident still haunted me. Why hadn’t I answered his question as Mrs. McIntosh had - tenderly, imaginatively? And how often before in my life, insensitive through self-absorption, had I failed to recognize another’s need?
Perhaps my heart had been asleep for years, but now it was awakening, anxious to compensate for lost opportunities, and avidly curious. By what magic has Mrs. McIntosh transformed a crippled boy into a confident man? Had it been instinctive kindness, or deliberate? Was it compassion, tact or a combination? Then I recalled an expression used by Dr. Norman Vincent Peale. He had called such generosity of spirit the “gracious heart.”
Looking back, I realized how often I had been helped by such hearts, how often I, too, had been exalted by a single gracious phrase or act. My mother did this to me many times when I was young and vulnerable, conferring the precious gift of self-esteem by a thoughtful gesture.
Once when I was seven, she was planning a formal tea and I wanted to help. I picked a bunch of dandelions and brought them to her. Many a mother would have thanked me and plumped the ragged weeds into a milk bottle in the kitchen. But my mother arranged them in her loveliest vase on the piano between tall candelabra. And she made no simpering explanation to her guests about “little Betty’s flowers.” Now, whenever I see flowers at a party, I remember the pride I felt that my dandelions, treasured above roses, hadthe place of honor.
The gracious heart is, above all, strongly understanding of the feelings of others.
My teen-age brother taught me this the night he helped to create a popular girl. He had seen her at a dance - a shy, unattractive little freshman. Nobody paid any attention to her, and she faded against the wall. My brother was moved by her predicament. He asked her to dance, and a minor miracle occurred. She was so happy that she sparkled and was almost pretty. Another boy cut in; afterward she danced nearly every dance.
Gallantry like that deepens every relationship. It can polish a marriage to a new luster. My friend Marge told me that on her 40th birthday she was, like many women, deeply depressed. She knew that happy, productive years lay ahead, but in the excessive value placed on youth in our society, she had lost her perspective. She said nothing of this to her husband at breakfast, but after he left she gave way to tears. She foresaw deepening wrinkles, a struggle to remain slender. By the time her husband came home she had regained a degree of calm, but the ache persisted. After dinner he said, “Come and see your presents.”
They had always exchanged practical gifts and she suspected he had sneaked in the new vacuum cleaner they needed. But to her amazement she unwrapped a pair of jeweled boundoir slippers and a lace negligee. “He didn’t explain why,” she said. “But I knew what he was implying: ‘You’re beautiful, you’re glamorous.’ And the odd thing was, I began to feel that way.”
The gracious heart is never too busy. I recall hearing of a little boy who was devoted to a battered, one-eyed teddy bear. Hospitalized for a tonsillectomy, he was holding Teddy close when the surgeon came to his bedside just before the operation. A nurse moved to take the bear, but the doctor said gravely, “Leave Teddy there. He needs attention, too.”
When the child regained consciousness, Teddy was snuggled against the pillow - and across his missing eye was the neatest bandage a skilled surgeon could devise.”
Opportunities to put this rewarding talent to good use are all around us. I was shopping with a friend in New York’s Italian section when she noticed a boy of about eight helping his father sell vegetables from a pushcart. He proudly sold a cauliflower to a woman and waited for payment, but she reached past him and gave the money to his father. The little fellow’s smile faded; his shoulders slumped. My friend realized that somehow she would have to retrieve the child’s pride. She called him over and selected tomatoes and scallions which he put in a bag. She could have given him even changes; instead she gave him a dollar. For a few seconds he frowned, calculating; then he brightened and handed her the correct change.“Thank you,” she said. “I couldn’t have figured that fast.”“Aw, it was nothin’,” he said, looking at his father. But it was something to him, and suddenly all four of us were beaming, warmed by the glow that her imaginative act had created.
“The gracious heart protects and enlarges the self-respect of the other person, builds his ego,” says Dr. Peale.
“When you come home from work and your child races to greet you, asking excitedly, ‘Did you hear what happened on Main Street today?’, your gracious heart, somehow, had not heard the news - it gives the child the pleasure of telling you. But if you say, ‘Oh. Yes. I heard about it an hour ago.’, your heart is only building up your own ego.”
There is enormous love in this world - unconscious, instinctive, eager for expression. Each of us can learn to unlock it with the thoughtful courtesies of a gracious heart.