Songs of Kindness Ringing in my Ears

June 1, 2024

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Do you ever feel like the world is bombarding you with a message, and that wherever you turn, you keep hearing that same thought? Kind of like Kevin Costner’s character Ray Kinsella in Field of Dreams hearing, “If you build it, they will come.” Or like when people saw images or heard musical notes inspired by aliens in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. In those examples, only a few people saw or heard the messages, so everyone else thought they were crazy. In my case, while people may think I’m crazy for the usual reasons, these messages have come from mainstream media, and not from supernatural or extra-terrestrial messengers.

The first source of the messaging came after PGA golfer Grayson Murray died by suicide. Up until last week, he was a story of hope. Murray was an outstanding golfer who won early in his career, then struggled. Three years ago, he announced he was an alcoholic and withdrew from golf to focus on his health. He returned to golf, sober and more prepared, made his way back to the PGA tour, and actually won a tournament in January of this year. It was one of the feel-good stories of the year. However, he struggled in recent competitions, and actually withdrew from last week’s contest after playing less well than he wanted. The next day, he was found dead. 

It was shocking, unexpected, and incredibly sad. His parents made a statement that hit home with me. They said, “Life wasn’t always easy for Grayson, and although he took his own life, we know he rests peacefully now.” Then they asked for people to honor Murray “by being kind to one another.”

When I read that, it took me back to my times of grief. One of my takeaways from that whole process was how powerful acts of kindness were in helping me to heal. And not just kindness towards my family and me, but any acts of kindness. Grayson’s parents’ words brought back a flood of memories of how I felt at that time. For some of you, it may sound trite. But let me tell you, it was a real feeling. After almost a quarter of a century, I am still grateful and beyond appreciative of people going out of their way to be kind to someone else.

The next message came with another death, this one brought about by cancer. Basketball legend Bill Walton succumbed to colon cancer earlier this week at the age of 71. Way too young. LA Times sports reporter Bill Plaschke wrote about Walton’s legacy, and his two top characteristics about Walton had nothing to do with basketball – he was wonderfully wacky and incredibly kind. That set off the Close Encounters song again. Plaschke witnessed Walton’s weekly kindness to Coach John Wooden as he aged. Walton was quick to bestow platitudes upon everyone he met. I think that because of (1) being perhaps the best college basketball player ever, and (2) being one of most kind and positive souls ever, Walton was allowed to keep a long career in sports broadcasting. He said some crazy stuff during basketball games, and some of it was even about basketball. He would discuss the winter solstice, Sir Isaac Newton, Beethoven, Chewbacca, the late Pac 12 Conference – always referred to as “The Conference of Champions” – and make oblique references to the Grateful Dead and marijuana. He loved life, he loved heaping praise on others, and he used both public and private life to spread joy and laughter wherever he could. And to those who knew him best, his big-hearted kindness was his greatest legacy.

Piled on top of Grayson Murray’s death, Bill Walton’s life and death reminded me that joy, laughter, and kindness are desperately needed in this world. 

I wonder if we are living in the meanest time in human history. There were certainly more brutal times, but I don’t know if there’s ever been a time when nasty people have had such a loud voice. Twitter has to be one of the most malicious places ever. If an athlete, a performer, or even a regular person fails, flops, or just makes a mistake, the voices of criticism and spite can seem deafening. Too many news shows fill the airwaves with those same shaming messages. Politicians at all levels can be name-calling bullies. And yet, somehow, too many people love these sources of spiteful, hateful, and mean language, and relish in the carnage they create. Worse, these strategies are obviously successful at winning over voters and viewers. I can’t stand it.

As a public official, I was criticized many times in my career. My reactions, each and every time, were to accurately respond with the truth, and never resort to negativity or name-calling. I won’t say that it didn’t hurt. I was certainly impacted and bolstered by the attitude of one of my mentors, Dr. Neil Schmidt. Neil was a gentle soul who would never lash back at critics. I remember someone telling him that the criticism never seemed to impact him at all. He responded kindly, “That’s not true. I feel those voices and the nasty words they use, but I do a good job of hiding the scars.”

I don’t think we can stop the meanness. But I do believe the acts of kindness matter. And one of the best things we can do to foster acts of kindness to is to slow down. There was a 1973 Stanford study of seminary students, in which there were two groups. One group was told they were late for their next event, and one group was not. They all encountered a situation where someone was in need of assistance. Those in the unhurried group were six times more likely to stop and offer assistance. 

As often as possible, and it’s easier with my new work schedule, I’m trying not to feel like I’m in a hurry. I have to consciously tell myself I have time, even when I think that I don’t. I am often not convinced by my own words. But I’m working on it.

Going back to Grayson Murray’s parents’ request: I loved the reaction of Harry Higgs, a fun-loving easy going golfer, who is fighting to get back on the PGA Tour. His response: “I would challenge everybody here, and I’m going to do this myself as well: Each day, say something nice to someone you love, and also make a point to say something nice to someone you don’t even know.” I like it, Harry. Thanks for focusing on what is important, especially when your encouragement comes in the middle of your personal struggle to keep a job that you so clearly love.

The Dalai Lama has not yet responded to Harry Higgs’ words. The Dalai Lama may or may not be a golfer. I’m pretty sure he is, because Bill Murray’s Carl Spackler character in Caddyshack professed that he once caddied for the Dalai Lama and that even with his flowing robes, he was a big hitter. That aside, I know the Dalai Lama is an expert on kindness. As he states in The Book of Joy, “As soon as I wake up, I remember Buddha’s teaching: the importance of kindness and compassion, wishing something good for others, or at least to reduce their suffering.”

Thank you to Bill Walton, to Grayson Murray and his parents, to Harry Higgs, and to the Dalai Lama. Your songs have been ringing in my head all week. 

Let’s do our best to laugh, love, slow down, and be kind. The joy we inspire, and the suffering we reduce, may very well be our own.

——-

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Post #109 on www.drmdmatthews.com

NOTES

As I write this, the PAC-12 Conference is nearing its end. There are a few baseball and softball games left, and then . . . no more. Bill Walton’s “Conference of Champions” will be no more. I read once that Bill Walton would use the “Conference of Champions” phrase so much that some people thought he was being paid each time he said it. I love how my son Ryan put it: “We knew there could never be a PAC-12 without Bill Walton. We just didn’t know we couldn’t have Bill Walton without the PAC-12.” Here is Bill Plaschke’s column on Bill Walton. If you live in LA, and I know the LA Times is not what it used to be, but it’s still our paper, there are still many outstanding journalists, and I encourage you to subscribe.

It may seem like a little thing, but those talking about suicide now use the phrase “died by suicide,” instead of “committed suicide.” The word commit is often used in reference to a sin. So for the families grieving the loss of a loved one, adding that judgment to something so terrible made it even more difficult. I now use that term. Though I don’t think it eases the pain, it certainly doesn’t make it worse. For those of you who have been personally impacted by the loss of someone who died by suicide, and I know there are several readers for whom that is true, I am so sorry.

Here’s the link if you want to read more about the Stanford Study on Good Samaritans.

Caddyshack may be the most quoted movie of all time. So many different lines continue to be repeated on the golf course. And for me, I can’t hear it too much. Here’s Bill Murray’s not-one-bit-in-the-script-totally-improvised scene of Carl Spackler’s story of looping (caddying) for the Dalai Lama. And if you can’t get enough of Caddyshack, you’ll enjoy a book that my friend Laura shared with me, which describes the totally out of control and leads you to wonder how the heck did they ever get the movie made. Caddyshack: The Making of a Hollywood Cinderella Story

And for those of you keeping score, KINDNESS on that location of the Scrabble Board would have been a 54 point word. I took that photo. Other photo credits: Bill Walton by Alan Berezovsky from the LA Times; Dalai Lama from His Holiness’s Facebook page; Close Encounters from Indiana University; and Ray Kinsella from FenwayPark100.


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16 Comments

  1. Stephen Murphy says:

    Outstanding Dr. Mike.
    Thank you for giving me this gift early on a Saturday morning,

    1. Mike Matthews says:

      What a nice response, sir. Glad you enjoyed it.

  2. Susan Samarge says:

    Though I love what you write, I also SO appreciate all your notes used to support your writing! The additional commentary, and the intent behind what you use is often where I get a good giggle or solid insight. Thank you for always including them! And I LOVE those 54-point words!

    1. Mike Matthews says:

      There are a few of you die hards who read the notes. I love writing them, and it makes me so happy that a few of you wackos love them. Thanks, Susan!

  3. Dan Stepenosky says:

    “Well, The World Needs Ditch Diggers, Too.”
    Judge Smails (Ted Knight)

    1. Mike Matthews says:

      Like I said, Dan. Well played.

  4. Bill Sampson says:

    Great one Mike. I remember Neil with fondness. You’d have been the best possible replacement for him.

    I have sometimes justifiably been accused of being caustic but at one of my all too numerous high school reunions (60 coming up) we all filled out a short survey on what we’d do differently. Even though I was an out of it kid, my response was: “I’d be kinder.” I should have been. I’m doing a little penance for the next several months as this will be the second time I’m the reunion chair and it’s scheduled for October.

    I was at UCLA Law School for Walton’s final two years. I was lucky enough to attend when the greatest coach of anything ever was there teaching the greatest college basketball player ever about life, how to put on his socks, and incidentally, the game of basketball.

    Warning – non sequitur: I heard a good one concerning estate planning and the fact you cannot take it with you this week: “Have you ever seen a hearse pulling a UHaul?”

    I can’t help myself – I ALWAYS read your notes – and everyone’s. Sigh.

    1. Mike Matthews says:

      Thanks, Bill. You couldn’t say a nice thing than that. It would have been an honor to follow Neil. All that aside, not doing so took me on a path that I absolutely loved. I do think it’s possible to be both caustic and kind. You just have to know your audience. And you are an OG Note Reader. You were reading notes before people knew they were there. One more reason that I appreciate you. Thanks again.

  5. Daniel Wren says:

    Great message and a little heart breaking as well. Here is a link to a short video by Fr. James Martin that I try to listen to every year before lent.
    BTW you should also watch his commencement speech at Gonzaga from 2016.
    https://youtu.be/90g8fVNkPPU?si=BE57LUEMDOBAJXno

    1. Mike Matthews says:

      Great video, Dan. Thank you. A few things. (1) Jesuits and Buddhists are not that far apart. That may offend some people, but I believe it is absolutely true. (2) Great video. (3) I love the idea of adding something for Lent – so you are adding to society rather than depriving yourself. (4) His 3 ways to be kind are wonderful: (i) Don’t be a jerk, (ii) Honor the absent (don’t talk negatively about people when they aren’t there), and (iii) St. Ignacious’s advice to ‘always give people the benefit of the doubt.’ So good! I’ll put the commencement speech on my list.

  6. Love this. Thank you, Brother!

    1. Mike Matthews says:

      Thanks, Patrick!

  7. Birgitta Istock says:

    Your post should be required reading for everyone this year! I too “wonder if we are living in the meanest time in human history.” And I believe in the importance of kindness. A young man (30s) helped me carry a box into Costco earlier this week…and I’m still talking about it! Focusing on the positive and sharing acts of kindness with those we know and don’t know …is so important!! Thank you for inspiring us with your written words.

    1. Mike Matthews says:

      Required reading! Very kind words, Birgitta! Thank you.

  8. Erika says:

    This was wonderful. Paul LOVED Bill Walton in every way. I loved his outlook on life and positivity, but his announcing sometimes drove me crazy.

    1. Mike Matthews says:

      If Bill Walton’s announcing didn’t drive you crazy, I would say that there’s something wrong with you. There’s a special place in heaven for Dave Pasch, Waltons’s long time play by play partner. He had to try to bring Bill Walton back to earth (and the game) so many times. Thanks, Erika!

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