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The Power of Kindness
“When I was young, I admired clever people.
Now that I am old, I admire kind people.”
~ Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel
It’s not unusual for an act of kindness to shift a miserable day into an uplifting one. Wow, what power! And yet, we’re often too busy, too distracted, too focused on something else to take a moment out to be kind to a fellow human being.
Ironically, we tend to show more kindness to a pet than to a person. We’re walking down the street and a person inadvertently bumps into us. Before he’s had a chance to offer an apology, we’ve responded with a dagger look and a reprimand: “hey, watch where you’re going.”
Yet, when a four-legged creature with a wagging tail comes to sniff us out, many of us respond with pure kindness. “Hey, such a good doggie. You’re so cute. Look at those eyes. So beautiful.” Your response reaps dividends for the lucky dog, his lucky owner and you. You all have experienced a winning moment which makes your day just a little bit more pleasant.
With our harried pace of living, we often make no time to be kind to each other. The upshot? Let’s eavesdrop on a conversation I recently was privy to. A husband, clearly in distress, called his wife’s internist...
“I’d like to speak to the doctor.”
“Oh, it’s crazy here. We’re so busy. He’s not available now.”
“I have a crisis situation here. My wife fell. I can’t get her up. And I can’t get her in the car. I have to cancel her appointment. But I need to talk to the doctor. When can I speak to him?”
“Call again at 4 o’clock. But I can’t guarantee he’ll speak to you then. He’s so busy. I gotta go. And oh, have a nice day!”
An inappropriate “have a nice day” is the essence of impersonal communication. It’s not a nice day, but a sad day when we are so busy that we cannot take a moment to be genuinely present with a fellow human being in distress.
Kindness, however, should not be limited only to those who are in obvious distress. Everyone experiences problems. And no one carries a sign around on their chest publicizing the stressful things that have been happening in their lives.
I can guarantee you, however, that everyone has a battle that they’re fighting. Sometimes it’s a battle that takes its toll every day of the week. Sometimes, it’s simply a “I woke up on the wrong side of the bed” kind of day.
Certainly, you don’t know what kind of struggle that stranger who bumped into you in the supermarket is having. Could she have just been diagnosed with breast cancer? Could she be at her wit’s end trying to raise an autistic child on her own? Could he have just received a notice that he’ll be laid off at the end of the month? Has he just buried his dad?
Moreover, you don’t even know what battles are going on for your defiant son, your distressed wife or your agitated husband? You may think you know what’s happening but you’d be surprised at the intensity of their feelings, their fears and their unresolved issues.
If an act of kindness can alleviate the stress one is feeling or bring a smile to someone’s face, why be stingy? Do it. Give someone your seat on the subway. Let a mom with an agitated kid break the line. Compliment a person on something they’re wearing. With a loved one, be kind with your criticism. Tell him how much you appreciate his thoughtful action. Share with her how much you admire her courage.
The kindest people make other people’s day better and brighter. That is a worthy goal in and of itself. But if you need further incentive to be kind to strangers and loved ones, know that you yourself will thrive as you become more compassionate, considerate and caring.
Linda is a psychologist and personal coach in private practice who specializes in helping people enrich their lives, enhance their relationships and overcome self-defeating patterns of behavior. For more information about her work, contact her by email or visit her website at PsychWisdom.