The lead phrase on one of my Twitter followers page is pretty simple and pretty profound: Be kind.
Coincidentally, or maybe not, when I saw that relevant piece of advice while snooping around on Twitter a few days back, I had just finished making a one-minute video birthday greeting to my brother, Jim, who is one of the kindest people I know.
Kindness is a quality worth celebrating in anyone of any age, particularly in this time of mean-spirited rhetoric and ubiquitous acts of unkindness. I can’t think of a time in my almost-69 years when rude, mean, inconsiderate behavior was more common and more commonly accepted and even encouraged — from the White House on down — than it is today.
As a society, we are getting increasingly coarse and crass and discourteous in the way we converse and the way we interact. The way we think, even. Meanness is now equated by some with strength and even greatness, when in fact it is usually a sign of weakness and insecurity.
If kindness is strength, and I think it is, Jim Woster is a brute of a man, and one I’m fortunate to call my brother.
Jim turned 80 yesterday, becoming the first octogenarian among five Bohemian-Irish siblings reared on a Lyman County farm northeast of Reliance by Henry and Marie (McManus) Woster. He is also the best known of the five, particularly from central South Dakota east and into western Minnesota and Iowa. But most farm and ranch families in western South Dakota know a bit about Jim, too.
He is the closest thing to a farmer or rancher our pack of five siblings could produce. The rest of us? Yeah, not so much. My sister, Jeanne, became a nurse. My sister, Mary Alice, became a teacher. And I, the youngest, followed middle brother Terry into journalism. We all made the right choices, I think.
Jim sure did. He studied animal science at SDSU (then called South Dakota State College), and after graduating began working at the Sioux Falls Stockyards. He has been working with livestock and promoting agriculture in South Dakota ever since, as a cattle buyer, a cattle seller and for years as the market reporter on KELO TV, where he wasn’t afraid to bring a guitar onto the set and sing the livestock markets from time to time.
Jim had his own KELO TV show on Saturdays for a while, and was part of a health show on public broadcasting for a while. He writes a regular column in the Tri-State Neighbor, an agricultural newspaper based in Sioux Falls. And there’s no counting how many radio reports and interviews and public service spots he has done, or how many times he has been an emcee or featured speaker at banquets or luncheons or farm-ranch gatherings.
Nor is there a way to total the people he has visited in Sioux Falls hospitals or the support and favors he has offered their families. People he knows well, or hardly at all.
Jim’s list of volunteer work and public-service accomplishments and awards recently prompted Sioux Falls Mayor Paul TenHaken to proclaim on Twitter: “Many would say this man is the real mayor of Sioux Falls. Happy 80th birthday to Jim Woster, a South Dakota legend!”
A South Dakota legend. You won’t get any argument from this “little” brother. Jim is also a role model of generous behavior toward others that I try to follow, with various degrees of success. I can be very nice. I can also be a lot less than that.
I like to say that on my best days, I’m a little bit like Jim. That’s something we could all aspire to in this age of anger and division and personal attacks.
It starts with something pretty simple and pretty profound: Be kind.
Kevin Woster writes a blog and offers radio commentary for South Dakota Public Broadcasting. He can be reached by emailing email@example.com.
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