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This week I mentioned to my office mate Jen that I was buying candy Easter eggs made by our church’s United Methodist Women and friends. (Side note: They are delicious and have been a church tradition for a looong time!) I told Jen that I intended to send them as a gift to another friend. I have some good reasons for doing this, which I won’t go into.
“You’re so kind,” Jen responded.
I answered, “Well, she just needs a little kindness right now.”
But when I think about the subject, it seems that we all need a little kindness these days. Have you noticed how mean people can be? How impatient? How judgmental? How angry?
It really hits you smack dab in the face when you wander into social media. People feel perfectly free there to criticize or overtly attack strangers for any reason: how they look, what they like or dislike, and of course politics. How can we judge another person by their political stance when we don’t know who they really are?
I’m far from perfect in this regard. I get sucked into the never-ending parade of anger and hatred as well as the next person. But I’m trying to check myself when I do. And I’m trying to change my behavior, as well as my heart, by practicing the art of being kind.
What is kindness? Well, according to Karyn Hall:
“Kindness is defined as the quality of being friendly, generous, and considerate. Affection, gentleness, warmth, concern, and care are words that are associated with kindness. While kindness has a connotation of meaning someone is naive or weak, that is not the case. Being kind often requires courage and strength. Kindness is an interpersonal skill.” (Karyn Hall, “The Importance of Kindness,” Psychology Today, 04 Dec 2017, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/pieces-mind/201712/the-importance-kindness,)
I usually listen to Audible books while in the car. Recently, I’ve been listening to Barbara Taylor Brown’s book, An Altar in the World. She challenges readers (and herself) to remember that everyone we encounter - whether face-to-face or online – has a life about which we know nothing. And yet they live lives. Real lives. And these may be just as joyous, heartbreaking, hopeful, confusing, and difficult as ours. When we come face-to- face with others, one simple way of connecting and seeing our shared humanity is to look them in the eyes. That’s right. Meet the eyes of a cashier when we’re paying for groceries, or the post office employee when we’re mailing a package, or people when we’re waiting for our coffee. Smile. Thank them or chat with them. For those we encounter online or on the phone, I suppose the best thing is to use our imaginations and see these disembodied voices or collection of words as the living, breathing individuals that they are.
I’ve been trying to practice Brown’s simple form of kindness and connection lately. Last week, while waiting for coffee at my local Starbucks, I entered into a conversation with an employee and a customer about how we all somehow mistook Tuesday that week for Wednesday and were disappointed to discover that we wrong and actually had another day in our work week. We had a good laugh about it. Afterward, the customer and I talked about life and, believe it or not, blessings all in the space of a few minutes. I left the store feeling joyful and … well, blessed. I hope my new friends felt that way, too.
By now, it should not surprise anyone that kindness turns up as a common theme throughout the Saint Maggie series as well as in my contemporary romance, Heart Soul & Rock’n’Roll.
Maggie Blaine Smith, of course, makes it a point to be kind, compassionate, and helpful to the people who come into her life. If you follow the novels or this blog, you can't miss the fact that Maggie is a compulsive do-gooder.
Lins, my heroine in Hearst Soul, is an assistant minister. Like Maggie, she also is compassionate, open, and kind. Early on in the book (and in the film script based on it), Lins meets Kenny, a homeless Navy veteran, and takes him to lunch. This is a simple thing for her, but a badly-needed meal for him. And Lins' one little act of kindness has a multiplying effect – Kenny ends up getting hired and given a place to live by Lins’ new friend, a "part-time rock god" named Neil.
Why is kindness such a focus in my stories? Well, to be honest, writing is one way to influence people. Although I am an inveterate storyteller, I prefer to tell tales that focus on love, hope, and other things of a positive nature. However, it doesn’t mean that I am sappy about it all. It does mean, though, that I prefer these themes over themes of coldness, hate, and despair (which appear but do not dominate in my work). Since we seem to be living in a pretty cold, despairing, and hate-filled environment at the moment, I figure we can use a good dose of the positive stuff as an antidote.
As far as I'm concerned, the flat truth of it all is that kindness is essential to life, perhaps as essential as water, air, and food.
So here’s my challenge to you and to me. Do one little kindness for someone, an animal, or the natural world this week. Don’t expect a reward for being kind. Just note the impact it has on the one you have been kind to – as well as the impact it has on you. Try to make on little dent in the meanness that so frequently nips at our heels these days.
Give my little experiment a go. I bet you’ll find it not only lifts someone else up, but lifts you, as well.
Until Wednesday, gang!
Janet Stafford, Squeaking Pips Founder