Kindness Counts

Saturday was a very hard day. I had written this piece early in the week, but the universe knows all things and gave me this gift on Saturday in the midst of my turmoil. So, I give this moment to you because it helped me.

I had a moment today, well now yesterday to you. I was walking in the rain with no umbrella because I was in such a haze of feelings and thinkings that I didn’t realize it was raining. I was listening to The Avett Brothers to try to drown out some of the loudness in my own mind. I stopped at a crosswalk and suddenly, it wasn’t raining on top of me. A young woman had saddled up to me and put her umbrella over me saying, “I know it doesn’t fix it, but it helps a little, for now”. I must have looked like a zombie or, I don't know, a hot mess at the very least, but that act of kindness was everything to me. In that moment, especially with her words, I felt such a wave of comfort. It doesn’t fix it. Probably nothing will and I don’t want to go back to the way things were, I want to move forward, but it does help. Just a little bit. Just for now. That young woman probably didn’t realize the extent of her kindness. To be seen is such a gift. Kindness counts.

There are many different types of people. Some people try to find the silver lining in everything. Some people don't believe in them. Some people, when they look out at the world, only see all of the wrong and the hate and the hurt and decide that the world is a bad place.  Some people look out at the world and see a collection of people who have all experienced hurt and disappointment and heartbreak and in spite of all that do the best that they can.  No two people will see the world in the exact same way. How could they? Each person has a unique set of circumstances and experiences that has made them who they are. It is an incredibly hard thing to do, but it is at the root of compassion and empathy to acknowledge this and instead of judging others by our own circumstances and experiences listen and receive and hold space with open hearts the way they see the world. There are many things that we won’t agree on politically, socially, interpersonally. Most of life is learning how to negotiate between the way you see the world and the way the other person does. It’s a dance.

But there is one thing universally recognized: Kindness Counts.

Having worked in the service industry for many years now interacting with a high volume of people everyday, I have witnessed the way that a simple and courageous act of kindness changes a person. Whatever you believe about the world, the moment anyone, a stranger or someone you care for deeply, offers you a kindness, it immediately softens all of the armor we’ve built up. Most of us spend so much time fighting and protecting and barreling through life that we forget how to soften. Have you ever been incredibly upset, feeling like the last thing you want is for someone to touch you, but the moment you are enveloped in a hug, everything softens, the armor comes off, and you feel the weight of the circumstances but the light of being alive? Acts of kindness act like the best hugs.

Often I look at the outdated notion of the “American dream”, the one where people fight and climb and claw to get to the top by any means necessary, and I think this must be where kindness became less important in our culture. At the top of the ladder there is only room for one. This scarcity mentality will be our destruction if we let it override the biological inclinations of humans as a social species. Especially in New York, there is a large scarcity mentality. Kindness asks us to realize that there is more than enough time energy and resources to go around. The extra fifteen seconds it takes to thank the barista won’t make you late, but it may just change his or her day.

It sounds so easy but I know the reality of this practice is much more challenging. Sometimes I think that New York City has made me a harsher and harder person. The city has trained me to be skeptical of kindness and less kind to myself. So I wonder what would happen if we all started to engage with the unkind thoughts we think towards ourselves. Those thoughts sound like: You’re not good enough. God, why are you so stupid? Of course they don’t like your work. It’s not good. Can you say something useful for once? Honestly, this list could be quite long and extremely varied. The work of kindness needs to start with kindness towards self for it to be authentic and impactful outside of the self. When I have those unkind thoughts, I try to take my head out of the sand. Is this the story I want to tell myself? Why do I think this? Many times, this story has come from a place outside of me. It was something that someone, in a moment of high emotional stakes, said that had a lasting impact on the way I saw myself. Even if we don’t think we have that power in someone else’s life, we never know what might stick and alter the way someone learns to see themselves. In my own exploration of why it’s hard to be kind to myself, I’ve found forgiveness to be my biggest ally. Why am I so hurtful to myself? Can I forgive myself for being human, making mistakes, misjudging, taking a wrong turn, misreading the signs? If I forgive, might I be more at peace? When the inner world is one of kindness, compassion, and empathy, then the outer world can be that too.

So this is the challenge: For just one week, can you take your head out of the sand?  Can you look up, look out, look around, and do one conscious and courageous kind thing each day? It doesn’t have to be a grand gesture. Sometimes, the kindest thing you can do is listen. Can you intentionally add more kindness to the world every day?

If you follow me on the insta, I will post my random act of kindness on my story every day this week. Follow along, tell me you acts of kindness, and let’s make this world a better place to live in.