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October 2019

The Kindness Factor

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Pictures of awesome lunches and sleeping kitties aside, Facebook has transformed society in a very important way: Now, more than ever, we can witness acts of kindness.

The soccer team of girls who shielded a member of the opposite team when her hijab started to slip? That was nice. That meme that encourages women to take an old purse and fill it with toiletries and give it to a homeless person? What a lovely idea. The article my friends shared to remind me of how important it is for mental health to lunch with a friend? I liked that, too.

A funeral in Antigua, Guatemala. It’s easier to be kind to people when they’re dead. What if you remembered the goodness in others even when they are alive and challenge you?

If you live your life right, you can fill your entire world with beauty and joy. This may be easier in some places that others. For example, I’ve been living in Antigua, Guatemala, where every person you pass will greet you with a “buenos días” or a simple “que tal” or “hola” wherever you go. I know that part of this charm has to do simply with the fact that it’s a smaller town. When I lived in Tokyo, no one said “konnichiwa” when I passed – but that was in part because some days the sidewalks were so full you were forced into a polite, slow shuffle to get to your destination.

I’m still trying to understand why some communities and cultures are more welcoming and warmer than others. I imagine that there may be some legacy stress involved. Some countries and cities were the site of horribly traumatic wars and natural disasters that left the population on edge. Other cultures have had less destruction and victimization throughout history. As a result, they are more open to strangers like me.

But, as readers likely already know, the world is a mirror of your life within. When you are kind to yourself, you see acts of kindness around you. When you are kind to others, people want to return the favor. 

Last night, I took myself out to a nice dinner to celebrate the completion of a major assignment and simply appreciate a quiet evening by myself. I was actually feeling a little low, a little lonely. I figured a glass of wine and a yummy plate of pasta would help. The waiter, watching me read and breathe deeply, engaged me in a short conversation in Spanish. He asked me how long I was living in Antigua and if I were studying Spanish. I told him I wasn’t going to a class, but I am always learning. I had lived in Argentina, Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and even New Mexico and Florida, so I had a lot of practice. I said this all in Spanish, but admitted I wasn’t that great with the language. But he complimented me, while also speaking slowly enough so that I completely understood. His smile was a real-world version of a nice video on Facebook. He was kind to me. It was really nice. 

It takes a certain amount of compassion and gentleness to be kind. In today’s fast-paced, competitive world, kindness can feel like a revolutionary act. And yet, it’s a simple choice you can make every day. You have to really listen. You have to acknowledge that other people are equal to you in all ways. You cannot judge. Sometimes you have to go above and beyond. You sometimes must give others the benefit of the doubt. You have to be grateful. All of that can be hard if you’re used to living in a defensive, hardened way.

It’s easier to be kind when you view people as potential friends, rather than possible threats. Look for the goodness in others, and chances are you will find it.

I am constantly trying to soften myself. I am always practicing kindness. I am a warrior for peace, and I learned sometimes you must cease and desist when choosing love. Sometimes I have to choose peace over being right. I have a lot of opinions. But with increased frequency, I keep the less-than-kind ones to myself. I may not agree with you, but I respect you because you also have the potential to be a caring, good person – even if you happen to not be choosing that right now. It can be challenging to see the goodness in some people. Those people need extra kindness. Some people are never going to understand kindness. That’s sad, isn’t it?

Today, a friend mentioned in a chat that a mutual friend was feeling down. He was feeling isolated. I was so grateful that she told me, so that I could immediately send him a note and let him know I cared. To those who say it’s your responsibility to reach out and take charge of your emotions, I agree. But it can feel exhausting to be kind to others when you, yourself are in need. That’s why I always try to “pay it forward” as much as possible, and I encourage you to, as well.

The world can feel like a very challenging place, especially when you live in places where you don’t really speak the language and barely understand the culture. Not everyone will be kind to you, but that’s not because people are inherently unkind. It’s usually because something is going on with them, often having absolutely nothing to do with you. Understanding this is simply recognizing the abundance of kindness – or potential kindness – around you. 

Smoking volcano, barbed wire, mournful statue: File under “Life can be difficult.” But the Kindness Factor is the magic that makes life sweet. Shift your point of view to the gorgeous blue sky to file under: “Life is beautiful.”

If you don’t feel this reality in your heart, I encourage you look for examples of kindness around you. This is part of the power of social media. For years, we only got our “news” through traditional media channels. And you know newspapers seem like they are filled with bad news. I’m a trained journalist, so I can promise you that it’s not because of some conspiracy theory to make the world an awful place for whatever ends. The reason that you see so much “bad news” is because of the definition of newsworthiness. Of the test journalists use to determine what makes the news, an event must be rare. It must conflict with how we think life is. That means, thankfully, murders and war and rapes and political battles aren’t as common as strangers smiling and greeting each other on the street. And yet, seeing this bad stuff all the time may make you think the opposite. The bad news may fill you with fear. Resist it. Look for love instead.

It’s our responsibility, as residents of this modern world, to seek out and increase the kindness factor. At first, these acts of love may seem rare in your life – but they’re not, really. It’s extremely common, especially when you share kindness with others. So, how will you be kind today?