The following is one of my favorite quotes from the Dalai Lama: “Be kind whenever possible – it is always possible.” When asked to name the most essential virtues in other people, we might list honesty, integrity, courage, acceptance, or a commitment to working hard. We need people to exhibit these characteristics and many others in order to make the world a better place. Yet, to me, it seems nothing is more valuable than simple human kindness. This is because kindness serves as the foundation for the most meaningful connections with family, friends, co-workers and even those who appear in our lives for only brief periods of time.
Our family recently lost a beloved member – my husband’s grandmother, who passed away at the age of 97. Her kindness contribution to this world came in the form of seeing the good in everyone. She chose to never speak harshly of people, and at her memorial services, those who knew her best repeated this often and with much admiration. It is likely impossible to emulate such restraint on a daily basis as we navigate stressful times in our work and personal life. Yet, it certainly helps to put kindness at the forefront during routine and especially difficult interactions with others. Kindness helps keep name-calling out of arguments with partners, harmful gossip out of neighborhoods and sarcasm out of parents’ responses to challenging teenagers. Kindness can encourage us to add a positive comment when giving feedback to a co-worker or include a note thanking a teacher for his or her hard work when responding to a school email.
Sometimes kindness comes in the form of patient endurance. Early this winter, I went on a shopping trip with an organization purchasing cold weather gear for struggling families. We piled coats, hats and gloves on the conveyor belt as the store clerk rang up each item. The cart was nearly overflowing with purchased items when we realized we had forgotten our tax exempt number and needed to start all over. Other than perhaps a quick, deep breath, we saw no irritation in the cashier’s demeanor, even as she called the manager for assistance when the tax number would not work. The manager echoed her patience by offering to ring up everything for us at the service counter and providing us with a $10 gift card for the delay. Their kindness contribution resulted in the ability to purchase two additional coats for people in need.
We often wonder if our small acts of kindness can make any significant impact in the larger world around us. Can buying the coffee drink for the person following us in the drive thru really make that much of a difference? Will smiling and holding open the door for the person behind us lead to any more peace and happiness in a troubled world? Let’s suppose that person in the coffee drive thru is a new parent, sleep-deprived and feeling unable to handle his or her own basic needs, much less those of an infant. Or maybe the person following us through the door is a newly retired person experiencing anxiety and isolation as he or she faces that life transition. Perhaps for someone feeling vulnerable, our contribution of kindness in the form of a seemingly minor gesture of warmth can serve as a symbol of hope when needed most.
It is always possible to be kind, but it certainly is not always easy. Someone might cut us off in traffic or sharply criticize us. We might be overloaded with our own work and family demands. We might feel too stretched to find ways to be generous with others. Then again, we only reach the greatest rewards by putting forth the greatest efforts. I draw on the inspiration of people such as my husband’s grandmother and the patient store clerk to freely give a compliment or find ways to serve those in need. Look for your own way to make your kindness contribution and know that whether it be big or small, it will make a positive difference in this world.
Laura B. joined Empathia in 2000 and is an EAP Counselor. Laura has a bachelor’s degree in Sociology from Northwestern University and a master’s degree in Social Work from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, with a concentration in marriage and family therapy. Prior to joining Empathia, she worked as a case manager with chronically mentally ill adults readjusting to life in the community. Laura enjoys reading, attending kids’ activities and spending time with family.