Sunday, August 19, 2012

On Kindness To Strangers

"Would you like to wake up every morning with happy, positive thoughts?," asked the brochure the Jehovah's Witnesses left me.  The brochure did not define what "happy, positive thoughts" meant, not to mention "you," and Buddhists have a different concept of "awakening" than the Jehovah's Witnesses.

One of the occupational hazards of being an urban monk and trying to be kind, generous, helpful, and cooperative with everyone you encounter is that the poor Jehovah's Witnesses, who are so accustomed to having doors slammed in their face, rude demands to "go away," or just being ignored, mistake your kindness for interest in their religion.  Instead of coldly telling them "no" when they ask if I have a minute, I invite them in out of the Georgia afternoon heat, offer them something cold to drink (they always decline - whether it's against their custom to accept charity or they're mistaking my offer for alcohol, I do not know).  When they give me their literature, Watchtower magazine or brochures, I accept without making a promise to read it that I know I won't keep.  I remember their names, and greet them by name when they arrive.

I imagine their task is not easy.  So much rejection, occasional threats of violence, and displays of intolerance, hostility, and ignorance.  It would be nice, I imagine, to occasionally come to a house that let's you cool off in the air-conditioned interior for at least a minute or two, offers you a cold drink even if you can't accept it, and says "thank you" for your time.  As a bodhisattva, I try to provide that reception.

The problem, as I said, is that they mistake my kindness for interest in their religion.  I'm always careful to remind them that I'm a Buddhist, that although I respect their beliefs, I don't necessarily share them, and no, I don't think I can make it to the Kingdom Hall this Sunday.  But actions speak louder than words, and they come back with more magazines (even though I honestly admit that I hadn't read the last ones they left), bibles, even free passes to their annual convention.  Based on their comments, it appears that they consider me a near-convert who needs just the right "bump" to turn me over to their side.

One could argue that it might be kinder to be more assertive in my disagreements with their faith, but as I said, I think they get enough of that already from others who are not me.  If they leave my home smiling and  thinking "maybe. . . " their day just might be a little brighter, and they might wake up the next morning with happy, positive thoughts (whatever that means).

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