What the world needs, more than money and power and resources and promises, is kindness. There is big kindness, where people have given up their lives to work on the front lines in disaster and war-torn countries. Big kindness in adopting homeless children, sponsoring refugees, donating your birthday to a charity and raising thousands for a cause you care about.
I’m talking about everyday kindness. Kindness that does not require money. It doesn’t require you to go without or sacrifice. This kindness is the first to go when we are disconnected from our neighbors and the folks behind the counter at the post office. When we are too absorbed in our phones or the news to remember that on the other side of a conversation is a human just like us. Living. Struggling. Winning. Losing.
As a part of my 100 Days of Grace project, I am researching the qualities that tend to accompany true grace. Generosity. Lightness. Ease. Kindness.
To let an off-hand comment roll off your back. To let someone in as a lane is ending on the highway, when you know they may have rushed up just to cut the line. To not take it personally if someone doesn’t hold the door or greet you when you walk into a business.
Is the hurt that comes with taking things personally worth it? Is the remark under your breath or to their back as they storm away satisfying? It never is.
The short list that follows is an invitation. I am formally inviting you to bring kindness into your daily life. To you, it will be in small ways. To your recipients, it could elevate their entire day.
A Short Guide to Being Kind: Common situations and optional responses
When standing in line at the deli, the grocer, or some other public place of ‘errand’
Look up and around - is anyone else just standing there? Pay them a compliment on their attire, their child, or on a choice of food in the cart.
If it’s slow, strike up a conversation with the person providing you a service, like the cashier or bagging assistant. Ask them about their day and make eye contact, smiling.
If someone cuts you off in traffic, especially absent-mindedly or if they are from out-of-town
Slow your car just enough (Rather than tailgating or blaring your horn) to give them space to feel comfortable in the lane
Quietly think to yourself, I hope they’re okay in there.
When you enter a store and need assistance but no one greets you
Look around - do you see an attendant? If not, go to the service desk with your question
If there is an attendant in the section in which you need help, greet them politely and ask if they have a moment to help you. While it is their job to provide you a service, they have other jobs (like, inventory, straightening shelves, cleaning, replacing displaced items) and may have to find a non-busy attendant who can focus solely on you.
After someone greets you with a smart remark or belittling comment
Take a deep breath, but don’t take it personally.
Let the remark slide off your back. It’s up to you if you continue to converse with them or if you can complete what you need with someone else.
If this person is unavoidable: Take that deep breath. Ask politely, “Do you have a moment to chat?” Even if they don’t, simply make it quick, “That’s fine. I just need to let you know that your comment was unkind and left me feeling alienated. I don’t think you meant it, but I wanted you to know it affected me.”
Even if they did mean it, remember: Hurt people, hurt people. You don’t have to carry it with you.
When someone lets a door shut in your face, even if it is cold, raining, or dark outside
Don’t take it personally. Simply let yourself in and be sure to check behind you if there’s another for which you can extend the favor.
If you see someone struggling to balance or carry many things, especially when they are also caring for children, the elderly, or a person with a disability
If you are capable of helping, offer first before engaging.
If you are not capable or not comfortable helping, swiftly seek an attendant or able-looking person who could provide assistance and discreetly direct them toward the person in need.
Discretion in times of need is a mark of kindness. Not all people are comfortable being seen as “someone who needs help.”
At places you frequent often but find to be a chore to visit, like the post office, gas station, Target, auto mechanic, etc.
Whether you consider yourself a social butterfly or a happy hermit, getting to know the faces you see most regularly can turn a chore into a cheerful experience.
Ask the attendant, the slicer at the deli counter, the meat department manager, the cashier about their day. Let them share.
The key to becoming a regular in someone’s world is remembering. Make a mental note if someone tells you about their child, their dog, or if an important event has just occurred for them. Follow-up next time you see them, even if it is as simple as, “How is your pup doing this week?”
When you are met with a person, idea, or situation that you wholeheartedly don’t agree with
Remember: The person on the receiving end of your disagreement most likely disagrees with you. And, that’s okay. You can agree to disagree without continuing the conversation one word further.
If you choose to continue discussing, debating, or even arguing, omit any retorts that aren’t based on fact, unbiased accounts, and personal opinion unless you can state it objectively without attachment to their acceptance.
When it’s time to end an argument or debate, relax your body and your face. Take a deep breath. Ask the other person or people, “Are you leaving this discussion feeling negative in any way?” Leave them feeling enriched by the information you shared or complete with the disagreement.
In the event a server or attendant gets your order wrong, is forgetful, or seems unkind in their communication
Alert them promptly, as soon as you notice the error. Try, “It appears that my order came out wrong. I ordered X and received Y. Could you have the kitchen correct that please?”
If the service is unsatisfactory in their communication, appeal to them as the human being that they are. “I notice that you seem terse, tense, or distracted. Could we change sections to a server who has less tables or responsibilities?”
When you feel you must bring your experience to management, share with them only the facts and how those facts impacted your experience at their establishment. Refrain from personal remarks about the waiter or any disparaging comments about other persons involved, especially the manager.
When you must interact with someone who has recently been unkind to you
Speak calmly and without a grudge. It is always your choice who you deal with and if you have chosen this person, do what’s in your power to make it work for you.
Ask yourself: “What is the resolution that I want with this person?” and carefully identify what will make this right for you. Most importantly, relinquish any grudge you may have.
Sit this person down and bring up the prior experience without deprecation or assumption. Ask them politely, and with the intent to listen, what they were going through when that happened and if there is anything you can do to alleviate the stress they’re experiencing. If they are receptive, share your solution with them and invite them to join you.
It may be time to release this person from your life. Do so clearly, without any personal attack, share your gratitude sincerely for what they brought to your life, and end things completely without remorse.
If you find yourself in a pickle and need to ask for help, but also worry you may be seen as a bother
First, get personally clear with exactly what you need. Not why so much as what so that it can be provided to you. Consider writing it down and honing the wording so you are concise.
Choose at least one person who may be best fit to help you, even if it is a stranger, an attendant at a store, a police officer, or a family member.
Greet them politely, with any social graces that are customary, then ask them directly what you need, when you need it, and any other details. If there is repayment or return involved, share that with them objectively and be open to their request for an item or document of security.
If you are provided for, send a written or spoken thank-you that is sincere. If appropriate, follow-up after the assistance has served its purpose to share with them your success or stride.
Under any circumstances involving money, assets, property, or liabilities
Objective clarity is akin to kindness. Collaborate with parties involved to draft terms, expectations, and an outline of success.
Keep documentation current with all parties and be collaborative in your edits, as opposed to sending versions back and forth for “approval.”
In your outline for success, which is not typically included in contracts of any nature, write what each party involved would view as a successful arrangement and successful closure of engagement.
Though it may seem awkward to outline terms for conflict resolution, understanding that there is a safe place to mess up, fess up, and clean up is your guiding light to staying kind when a situation goes south.
When working on a project with individuals you feel are unqualified or find nearly impossible to work with - even beyond the workplace, like the PTA, homeowners association, Girl Scouts, Political organizations, volunteer programs, etc.
Take a step back and assess what leads you to believe the people around you are unqualified. This is your personal opinion, not truth. Instead of disparaging them personally:
Identify if you are in a leadership position, one which gives you the authority to re-assign individuals, delegate tasks, or remove members from a team.
If you are not, determine the conflict or shortcoming that’s causing your concerns. Can you move past it? Can you talk through it?
Ask yourself if you belong on this team, especially if you feel like everyone else around you is crazy and you’re the only sane one in the room.
Once you’ve determined your place in the group and your position on the circumstance, you have three choices:
Make a change, either in the project, the leadership, the participants, or the methods.
Seek the assistance of leadership to complete the above.
Choose if you can continue with the project in the direction that it's headed or if you should step down.
The key is to remove personal opinion of the other people, their ideas, their efforts and experience out of your decision-making. Treat everyone in the group with the respect and kindness you’d hope for if you were in a situation where you were confused, underprepared, or otherwise uncomfortable.
During stressful times like the holidays, the aftermath of job loss, a family crisis, or financially unstable circumstances
If you don’t have time or patience to lend an ear, give. A hug, a smile, a date for coffee in the near future. A silly picture you find on the internet. A quote you read in a book. Give something that reminds them we’re all human and it’s okay to hurt or feel overwhelmed.
If you do have time and patience, ask questions and listen. Be prepared for long-winded stories, awkward remarks, even unkind jabs that you don’t deserve. Simply be present.
When you are having a low emotional day, are feeling angry or sad, and are confronted with people you must interact with, even though you feel like hiding in a hole
Only you can determine if you’re in the right state of mind to accept the unpredictability of human contact. If you’re unsure, communicate. “I’m not in the state of mind to interact in a healthy way today. It’s okay with me if you can’t be around me today.”
Ask for help. And, be prepared that you may not receive it. But, if someone agrees, let them help you in the way that they know how. This is a kindness to both of you.
Most importantly: Do not verbally or physically criticize yourself to others. It is unkind to put upon them the weight of your sorrows, especially the personal ones that they could never alleviate for you.
The effort to outfit you with inspiration for kindness has illuminated some common themes. Of not taking things personally. Of being clear and objective. Of relinquishing personal and outward disparagement. Of presence, even if it’s only for a moment.
Maybe I was wrong to say that these suggestions for kindness would be without sacrifice. In my mind, sacrifice was money, time, tangibles. This guide asks you to sacrifice the human tendency to take the world personally, to sacrifice seeing ourselves as the center of the universe. It asks you to give up your personal opinion of other humans and to give the benefit of your doubt. It urges you to sacrifice slyness, superiority, and separation.
Consider the sacrifice as an act of kindness, specifically for you. In your sacrifice, you create room for genuine human connection - outside of your phone and the people who have to converse with you (family, co-workers, etc). You’re letting go of the stress of taking things personally and inviting peace into your heart. Peace that can only live where we hold no grudges for our fellow humans. Your sacrifice creates equality, harmony, ease, comfort, lightness, and joy. Not just for others but for yourself.
I invite you to take on just one of these. If you wish to expand to more, know that I’m cheering you on. But, it only takes one. One smile, one compliment on someone’s choice of ice cream in the checkout line, one instance of clear communication that resolves an uncomfortable situation. I invite you to try just one and share with someone you love how it impacted you.
If you feel so inclined, share below how implementing kindness could - or does - impact your daily experience. And, if you feel I’ve missed something, please share! Small acts of kindness may not stop the wildfires or right the political ship, but they have the power to make our lives, and the lives of people we touch, fulfilled.