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Regis Philbin and the Importance of Kindness

July 28, 2020 | by Emuna Braverman

A tribute to the celebrity reminds us what really counts in life.

I’m sure I’m not alone when I say that my favorite writer for the Wall Street Journal is Jason Gay who is responsible for the sports beat. It’s not just that he seems to have perspective on the importance (or lack thereof!) of sports. It’s not just that he brings a sense of humor to all of his columns. I think it’s that he brings real humanity to his pieces.

I was particularly struck by his recent tribute to the late Regis Philbin. “I could go on about his career and accomplishments, as many others have, but I’ve reached the point in my own life when what I remember most about someone is whether or not they were kind.” (His beautiful tribute goes on to mention the kindness of Mr. Philbin.)

I don’t know how old Mr. Gay is (probably young enough that he’d rather I’d didn’t call him Mister!) but I’m impressed that he’s already learned this lesson. It takes many of us a lot longer. And some never learn it at all.

We get caught up in so many other qualities or externalities. We value popularity and fame and who they know. We value the right zip code and high-powered jobs and impressive colleges attended. We may like people who are gregarious or smart or the life of the party or even perhaps those who are quiet and reserved. The latter qualities aren’t necessarily bad; they just aren’t necessarily good either. They can be used in the service of growth and connecting to God – or not.

Kindness stands out. Kindness isn’t neutral; it reflects a person who is focused on others as opposed to him or herself; who prefers to give rather than take. And, frankly, it’s often not in the first sentence of a celebrity’s obituary (or anyone else’s for that matter).

But it certainly should be. It reflects a life well-lived and time well-used. It shows appreciation for the gifts received and a desire to share the good. It speaks well of the deceased and of the writer. Both had to appreciate the importance of kindness. Both had to step outside their worlds where kindness is not necessarily the primary virtue focused on, where perhaps a virtue isn’t what’s focused on at all. Both had to understand the true foundation of human relationships and friendships.

It’s hard for all of us. We get caught up in many other goals. We get distracted by material needs or accomplishments. We get caught up in academic advancement and career achievements. We like people who are fun and keep the conversation alive. We get vicarious pleasure in the company of the rich and famous. We can lose ourselves.

But in all of life, and especially when the chips are down, it’s the people who are kind who count the most, it’s the people who are kind whose actions reverberate throughout the years. We can still remember the people who were there for us during some of our darkest times – who sent over dinner, who took us out for a drink or a late night run to the pharmacy, who lent us a shoulder to cry on (who realized that we needed a shoulder to cry on). Their kindness lasts forever.

I didn’t know Regis Philbin. I’m grateful to Jason Gay for giving me a glimpse beneath the surface, and I’m even more grateful to him for reminding me once again that kindness is what really counts. Perhaps more so now than ever.

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