I tried to keep a stiff upper lip and be nice and kind because the whole world was suffering, but my birthday was in a few days, y’all. My birthday! C’mon! And wouldn’t you know it, this year, I actually scheduled blow-out plans with friends. Plans that didn’t involve staying home in front of the mirror, pulling up the sagging skin on my forehead and neck, and angrily emailing AARP that I wasn’t old enough yet to join, so leave me alone. This was my year! Until it wasn’t.
I was prohibited from exercising with my outdoor boot camp group, but my workout buddies sent Happy Birthday texts and cards. I responded that I was great! Doing just fine. Bitter, but never better! In reality, I was coming unhinged from loneliness, sadness, and worry. When I looked up from my phone, the bad news TV network, and my quarantine birthday pity party, I saw a parade outside my window and realized it was for me! My boot camp friends had thrown me a parade of cars and signs and honks and flowers. I ran outside and threw them all virtual hugs. We spread out for this new thing called “social distancing” and did birthday pushups on the lawn and in the street.
After all the drive-by love and kindness, I cried happy tears this time. Life can turn in an instant. The worst birthday can become the best birthday ever. Things are dark and depressing and scary right now, but there is hope because there are people out there who spread kindness.
I suspect that life has been a challenge for you, as it has been for me, for quite some time. Maybe you’ve been in a downward spiral even before the virus broke loose. Maybe you’re like my friends who are fighting cancer or grieving loved ones, or drowning in debt, or depression, or pain. On top of that, now you’re locked away from every hug and kiss that could make it better. Maybe you’re at the end of your rope saying, “Kindness? Ha! Ain’t nobody got time for that.”
I am distinctly unqualified to write about or distribute kindness. I am a sarcastic, passive-aggressive, eye-roller, with no calling to devote my life to the poor or the mission field. People view me as kind, sweet, and nice, but, on the inside, I’m Grumpy Cat. My misconception of kindness has always involved being nice, being generous, or being a good or happy person who makes others happy. And I’m not even close.
We have made kindness out to be so daunting that we’re often too intimidated to give it away. It’s too exhausting to be kind, so we don’t do it at all. Our insecurities are our biggest obstacles to extending kindness. Maybe that stranger doesn’t want help from me. How can I help someone be better at something if I’m not an expert? My friend hasn’t texted for weeks, so she must be mad at me. I’ll leave her alone. We fear rejection or looking stupid, so we don’t act.
The good news is that you and I don’t have to be “nice,” or a missionary, or Mother Teresa, or Mister Rogers to be kind. Your assistance doesn’t have to be perfect and wrapped up neatly in a bow. Thankfully, we don’t have to think happy and loving thoughts, be in a good mood all the time, or make grand gestures to be kind. Kindness can take as little effort as making eye contact.
We All Belong
So, how do the cranky, irritable, mopey, average, unqualified people of this world show kindness? First, we have to change our mindset to believe that we’re all needy human beings on the same team. It’s not about me being awesome, so I’m doing this thing for you. I’m considerate, so I’ll compliment you on your cute leggings and you can feel good about yourself today because I gave that to you. Rather, in order to be kind, we must act from the belief that we are all on the same team, which is God’s team, and we are all traveling the same journey, trying our best to survive and thrive. We are all unique parts of the same body. Without the legs, the body falls. Without our contribution to kindness, whether big or small, the team falls.
We have a rallying cry in our boot camp group that says something like, “How many people does it take to do a thing right? Everybody! How many people does it take to mess something up? One person! What do we do when somebody messes up or falls? Help them up!”
Help Your Team
The humans around you in the grocery stores, on the highways, or on Zoom calls are all on your team. If they fall, you help them up. You don’t have to start a kindness journal and sit around dreaming up ways to be a fairy godmother (although it’s a cool idea). You just have to be open, watch for a need to arise, and act to fill that need at the moment.
Pause and look to the left and right before you cross the street. Keep your head on a swivel looking for ways you can help the team get to the other side safely. When we pause for a moment before dashing out into the world to take care of business and our to-do list, we notice those around us who have slipped off the curb or who are heading in the wrong direction. Accept where people are and do what you can to help them move forward to safety or comfort, or whatever they need.
Maybe you realize that your co-worker has made an error at work. You can send a discreet message, asking him how you can help correct or understand the error. Helping others do their jobs better, in a tactful way, helps us advance in ours. Did you read a compelling book, enjoy a delicious meal, interact with a friendly cashier? Write a positive review on social media and Amazon for your favorite authors, cashiers (on those grocery receipts), and local businesses. Give someone your jacket or gloves when it’s raining or cold. Call the friend you haven’t heard from in a while and check on her. Send a birthday or get well card or flowers instead of a text. Make eye contact with strangers and wave or say hello.
Be bold and be brave! Listen! If just for a moment. What’s the worst that could happen? When we root for each other, we root ourselves in kindness and watch ourselves grow.
Put on your oxygen mask, then slow down, looking left and right to see if those on the journey are safe or need help putting on their masks. Do these things without expecting help or thanks in return. You might go a lifetime without hearing a thank you. But more likely than not, you’ll receive something that will fill you with hope and love and change your life forever.
While you’re at it, when you pause to check on others, check in on yourself. Look within and ask what’s missing from your life. What things do you need for comfort, security, joy, or peace? Give yourself those things and let one of them be kindness. Show yourself compassion and speak to yourself with the love you’d extend to your best friend.
Kindness goes a long way to making people happy because it fills them with hope. Hope is like that drive-by parade. You can’t touch it. No hugs or kisses to be had. But it’s waving signs and you can feel it in your heart. So, fan the flames in the darkness. Cling to it. Pray for it. Reach for it. Maybe, by offering your unique brand of kindness to the world, you can give someone else a little drive-by hope today.
Connie Kuykendall writes from Virginia.© 2017 - 2023 When People Are Kind. All rights reserved. Click here for content usage information.