This I Believe

KUHF-Houston Public Radio’s “This I Believe” with Sylvia Villarreal

Sylvia moved to Houston with her husband in 1976 and in the succeeding years, has worked in public health and counseling…but writing has always been her great escape. She’s a published author and an observer of human behavior. Acts of kindness are not lost on Sylvia as she explains in her essay for KUHF’s This I Believe.

Sylvia met Jose Villarreal while they were both students at Boston College. Sylvia was a Boston girl attending her hometown college. Jose was from Texas attending grad-school. They fell in love, got married and eventually moved to Houston with one child in tow. A second child arrived after settling in here. Sylvia calls herself a “naturalized Texan” and has grown to love Houston. She says her essay was borne from the values she and her eight siblings learned as children. She says her father was the great example of her life and she pays tribute to him in her essay for KUHF’s This I Believe.
“I believe that unstinting kindness is one of the hallmarks of the highly evolved among us. If that statement provokes mental images of exquisite manners or those bankrolling humanitarian causes, let me try and be very clear about the quality I am naming.

Luckily most of us know kindness. Whether it’s a friend sharing a burden or the neighbor retrieving our trash can from the street, our lives are enhanced by everyday niceties. They grease the wheels of society and offer hope in a world that can seem hostile.

And the majority of us regularly engage in kindness; we smile encouragingly at the mother of that wailing toddler, or we purchase that extra sack of groceries for those in dire need.

All these acts ennoble giver and receiver, and the world is better for them. But “unstinting kindness” takes it to a higher level. Unstinting means “holding nothing back” and demands a far braver and unselfish constitution. Unstinting kindness implies a tenacity of spirit, a willingness to engage, and an ability to empathize that supersedes the norm. My model of this quality on the world stage is Bishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa, whose elf-like face is etched with humanity so profound, that it touches all who see him. Watching him during televised national hearings, he would occasionally lay his head on the table and weep at the atrocities that people recounted. But when he raised his eyes, they were not glazed with hate or burning with revenge. Rather they shone with hope, despite the pain and sorrow, that his people could move past this horror, that forgiveness was possible, and that ultimately, healing would come.

In my own life, I’ve had close-up models of unstinting kindness. My father was an old-fashioned lawyer who never made much money, but was incredibly rich in the regard of his clients. I remember people coming to our home, talking in low halting voices about the child in trouble, the abusive husband, or the mounting financial problems causing stress and shame. And my Dad always listened calmly and compassionately, offering solace and dignity. Not surprisingly toward the end of his life, he took up prison reform as a cause, working hard to make conditions more humane for those held in contempt by so many. I married a man much like my Dad, and comments about his uncommon kindness make me glad for my choice.

Unstinting kindness has transformative power, and those who practice it can change the world. This, I believe.”