Try a little kindness when things aren’t going well. It’s amazing what you can get back on track with just a little dose—as the giver rather than the receiver.
For some reason, kindness tends to take a back seat when difficulties mount and that’s too bad. That’s when we need to use it most—and I do mean give it not get it. (Though being on the receiving end is nice….)
Being kind is not a matter of having money to throw around. It’s more a case of noticing what you can give—a smile, a nod of recognition, your place in line if you really aren’t in a hurry. Kindness is a simple, effective way to connect with the rest of the world. And that, quite often, is what we need, even if the pain comes in different packaging—like a frustrating job search, bad news from the doctor, or mean-spiritedness from someone in your life.
One of my best experiences with the magic of simple kindness was in Scotland almost two decades ago. I went out for a walk one morning in Edinburgh and passed a white-haired man also out for a morning walk. I smiled at him. Then came the magic. I didn’t just get a simple smile in return. The man’s whole face lit up with appreciation at being acknowledged as a fellow human. Him showing me that moment of happiness made me delightfully happy. All in literally seconds, with just the use of a few facial muscles.
That’s the biggest deal about kindness. It’s not something you “do for someone else.” Yes, your effort is usually extended toward someone else, but the benefits go both ways. I smile again every time I think of that man’s reaction. I feel good about being human and being alive again and again because of that one experience—where I made the easy effort to connect by smiling at him.
This isn’t just something to do in large, sophisticated foreign cities on morning walks. Opportunities for little acts of kindness abound for all of us every day. Pulling the neighbor’s garbage can out of the road when it blew there. Trying to keep your car as far as you can from the cyclist you’re passing on a city street. Letting mistakes go unmentioned when noting them is not going to improve the outcome.
So much of our energy these days seems to be focused on making sure other people know there’s something wrong with them. Congress for sure. But even with friends. A dear woman I’ve been hiking with for over five years told me Sunday that my feet turn too far out when I walk. What was the point of that observation? (They’ve been this way for 65 years, and I walk fine unless I try to turn them in the way hers go.)
What would happen if we started an epidemic of kindness? I’m not talking about huge acts of generosity like funding schools or building hospitals in Somalia. If each of us decided to do five small acts of kindness everyday, my how things would change!
In part, we’d all feel better about ourselves, I suspect. Most of those “this is wrong with you” comments stem from I-don’t-feel-so-good-about-myself thoughts. Rather than trying to build yourself up by knocking someone else, do something kind. It doesn’t even have to be for that person. The resulting sense of peace alone is worth the effort. Plus that other person might then be motivated to do some other kindness.
Kindness affects the receiver but defines the giver: “I am well enough off that I can be kind.” That sense of abundance doesn’t flow from the size of your investment account. It comes from the strength of your character. We can all be rich enough to be kind. We just have to choose it. Every day.