Friday, November 13, 2009

Depending on the Kindness of Strangers

Have you ever done anything you could categorize as simply “kind?” It wasn't spectacular, it wasn't over the top, it was just kind. I hope you have many such experiences. In fact, I hope the people around you have shown you kindness as well. 

To me the word “kind” is a little deceptive. In our society it may seem tame, even boring. There is no star power attached to “kind.” It implies lukewarm, but why is that? 

I think most people would rather be called “compassionate” or “generous” instead of kind. The first words have a note of action and imply great personal strength. Kind seems plain and involuntary. 

I would disagree. Being truly kind is difficult. It is hard to do nice things for others without wanting credit or recognition. The problem is, once you seek those things you are no longer being kind, you are now self serving. True kindness is a very humble action, one that is hard to duplicate in our current world of recognition seeking activity. 

While I was in Scotland last year I ran into more people who could genuinely be considered kind than any other place I have been. They committed small acts of kindness in ways that surprised me. When I was traveling on an unknown bus system there was always a person who would tell me where my stop was. There were drivers who helped me figure out the correct coins to use to pay my fare. (They could have let me over pay.) There were shop keepers who gave directions and even a homeless man who drew me a map so I could get where I was going faster. Strangers smiled and waved, crowds parted to let people through. Even the employee at the airport was kind when they lost my luggage.  While it was obvious she was overworked she took the time to look me in the eyes and tell me how sorry she was I was without my belongings. It was very kind of her. 

We have heard the quote, “I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.” (Blanche, Streetcar Named Desire) Why is it we notice kindness from strangers but not the kindness from our own families and friends? Think about it. Do you consider anyone in your immediate family to be kind? Chances are the people all around you commit acts of kindness every day. 

So here is my challenge to you. It is a two part challenge, so get ready. I want you to commit two acts of kindness today, if you want to be crazy, go for 5. To be a kind act it must be simple and heartfelt. Holding a door for a person with bags or giving up your seat on the bus are great examples of kindness, but the options are endless. 

The second part of the challenge is to notice 2 acts of kindness around you. Once again, if you want to go crazy try and notice 5. At the end of the day examine how you feel. 

I believe as we improve our kindness skills we will be able to look at others with more compassion. As we head into the busy holiday season and we see hurried shoppers and rude drivers the compassion we have learned will go a long way to keeping us calm and in a good mood. And who doesn't like to be in a good mood? 

Tell me how the experiment goes. I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

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