“The place to improve the world is first in one’s own heart and head and hands.” ~Robert M. Pirsig
One day while grocery shopping I was reaching for a head of lettuce when I heard a shrill, high-pitched wail from a few aisles over. It sent shivers up my spine. It was one of those sounds that grabs your breath and pulls it to your heart.
It brought me back to a time I had long forgotten—a memory engrained in my brain from about twenty-two years ago when my children were toddlers. I remember those days of being exhausted and trying to wrap up the weekly shopping trip before the tantrum.
Most people in the store tried to ignore it, but the shrieks came like contractions about every six minutes. People started rolling their eyes. One lady commented that children shouldn’t be allowed in stores. I felt really bad for this parent. I mean, we were all children once, right? It’s pretty rude to fault the parent for something that occurs naturally as a part of being human.
Eventually, as I filled my cart, I ended up in the same aisle as the mom and child. Mom was spent. There was a Ziploc bag of Cheerios tucked next to the child and a stuffed animal that had probably been picked up off the floor of the aisle about fifty times.
It is during times like these when we, as humans, need to pause and show some compassion. As a woman, I wanted to support a fellow sister. As a parent, I wanted to support a fellow parent. As a human, I wanted to let her know that stuff like this happens and it’s okay, and in a few years she’ll laugh telling stories like these.
What I wanted to convey is that this was simply a very human moment.
I think we’ve conditioned ourselves to overlook many things in life—to shrug it off, roll our eyes, and simply walk away. We evade interaction on a very basic level. We miss so many opportunities to extend our human kindness to each other.
We live in a fast-paced world; we’re always on the go. We’re too worried about getting from Point A to Point B. Our brains are filled with thoughts and worries. We’re trying to stay two steps ahead of ourselves. Often this results in the failure to stop and do something nice for someone else.
I think what’s happened in the world today is that we see poverty, abuse, disease, war, hunger, bullying, and violence so often that it is overwhelming. We feel dispirited. What we must remember, no matter how distressing the news is, that we have the power to make a change. It starts with us understanding that because we are human we have been bestowed with the power to change the world with kindness.
What we need to remember is that when we offer kindness to strangers, we not only brighten their day, we brighten our own. When we express kindness to each other we establish or strengthen connections with each other. Sometimes it’s just a fabulous reminder of our humanness.
The beautiful thing about kindness is that it lives in your heart. It’s always there waiting to come out and make an appearance. You always know it’s a true kindness when you don’t expect anything in return, like gratitude or reciprocation; you simply want to make someone feel better.
Also, kindness is good for your health. Being kind regulates our heart rate; we get a warm, cozy feeling. Our brain releases dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, and endorphins, all of which make us happy. And oxytocin also reduces inflammation in the heart, so kindness is literally good for your heart!
Committing regular acts of kindness or simply showing kindness to others on a regular basis lowers blood pressure and reduces your chances of dying early.
Regular practice of kindness also decreases pain and anxiety while giving your energy a boost.
What are the human benefits of kindness?
* Kindness builds empathy. It can help us to put ourselves in another’s shoes. It encourages us to do nice things for others because we would like others to do nice things for us.
* Kindness builds gratitude. We look at the situations others are experiencing and we become grateful for what we have. Even when it’s not a lot, we can find the gratitude easier when we are kind to others.
* Kindness creates a ripple effect of kindness. One simple act of kindness can put a smile on someone’s face for the rest of the day. It can make someone feel good. In their energy of feeling better that they, chances are they are going to say something nice or do something good for another person, and that baton of good feelings will get handed to another as the days go on.
* Kindness gives a boost to our own self-worth as well as to the self-worth of the person we are giving the kindness.
* Kindness is calming. It gives a new perspective for us to step away from a woe and allow that warm, cozy feeling to run through our veins.
* When we are kind, we become a better human. Everything about us changes. Our demeanor, outlook, and our way of thinking. We become a conduit of hope.
As for me in the grocery store? I played peak-a-boo for two aisles. I managed to get a smile and the baby’s tears dried up. She even offered me a Cheerio, which I pretended to eat.
Something as simple as a childhood game relieved a bit of stress for another parent. It was a very simple act of kindness that didn’t cost a thing. To the mom, it was an unsaid acknowledgement of “You’re not alone and I understand what you’re going through.” It really is that simple.
What did I walk away with? Well… I had pulled up some memories from a quarter century ago that made me smile. That evening when I got home I actually pulled out the kids old photo albums and started to recall my own adventures with them. I felt good knowing that I didn’t add to someone else’s stress by being rude or uncaring, and I made a child smile. I think that’s a pretty good day.
You don’t have to wait until you see a screaming child in the grocery store; there are a gazillion little ways to spread kindness:
Hold the door for someone (even if you are running late).
Smile at people.
Give up your seat on the bus or train.
When you see a homeless person, look them in the eye and offer them a meal.
Stop at an accident to see if anyone needs help.
Help a parent get their baby stroller up the stairs.
Let someone ahead of you in traffic without complaining.
Help someone reach something off the high shelf.
Visit an elderly neighbor.
Buy lemonade from a child’s stand.
Tell someone you love their outfit or hair.
Tell someone they are a good parent.
Leave a generous tip.
Offer someone a tissue if they are crying.
Do you have anything to add to the list?