Self-Inspiration and Encouragement for Modern Life
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If an alien were to observe the increasing self-focus and divisiveness of today’s society, I suspect they might assume that human kindness must be very painful, very difficult, or very expensive. How else to explain the growing rarity?
Yet, those of us who forge forward with kindness in a world of self-interest and disunity know how easy it is to give of ourselves, especially in small ways. I’m not talking about sacrificing your life for a good cause or leaving millions to charity – although the value of both cannot be overstated. I’m talking about the simple ways we can all be courteous and considerate human beings. Here are six:
- Exhibit Gratitude. If someone holds a door open, say thank you (this seems basic, but try it for a day and count the responses). If a driver at a four-way intersection waves you through, wave and smile back. If you received exceptional customer service, write a note. Or post a positive review online. Just received a gift from a friend? Text a photo of the gift being used. Experience wonderful service dining out? Scribble a line of appreciation on the check. No one ever tires of being thanked in a world where few are.
- Think Small. There are countless little gestures that make the lives of others easier: Return a shopping cart from a store’s parking lot, even though it’s not yours. Put a discarded scrap of paper in the trash. Give up your bus seat. If a can of tomatoes is in the wrong spot on a supermarket shelf, move it where it belongs. Call an older relative just to say hello. Bring an extra bottle of water to the soccer game in case another parent forgets. Find the small things that make a difference and act.
- Smile at a Stranger. It’s understandable that today’s fast-paced, overscheduled days may be the culprit behind an unintentional lack of consideration. So here’s something that takes only a second. If you’re racing past a family in your neighborhood Starbucks, why not say good morning? Rushing through shopping and you like the cashier’s sweater? Tell them. Jogging through the park alongside a dog owner? Compliment the dog. Obviously (and sadly), this act of kindness needs to be vetted based on the stranger and the situation, but when the situation is safe, smile.
- Expand Your Reach. Whether you’re bringing chicken soup to a neighbor who just had surgery or volunteering to clean up the banks of a local river, reaching out to – and often, with – others can be incredibly satisfying. If a friend just moved, help unpack. If your town has a food bank, drop off a bag of groceries. If you usually ignore the pile of charity envelopes in your mailbox, choose one and make a small donation. Any time you reach out to help another, you make someone’s day sunnier.
- Don’t Add to the Ugliness. This act of kindness can be literal or figurative. As an example of the former, you might re-fold the shirt you just held up at the Gap rather than leave it in a clump, or not shove an empty soda cup into an overstuffed trash can. Or you can plant flowers where others might admire them or paint a peeling fence. Figurative actions? Two good places to start are holding our tongues when we’re angry and refusing to engage in gossip. Best of all, teach your children to be kind so that your legacy of helping others endures.
- Forgive Someone. This might be the hardest gesture of all, but potentially the most rewarding. When you hold a grudge, it holds you back. Loosen your grip and let it go. Forgive someone. This doesn’t mean you have to call the person, say the words, or invite them back into your life. It simply means letting go of the anger in your heart, accepting the situation for what it was, and moving on. This not only creates a kinder view of the individual formerly in your grip, but also allows you to be kind to yourself.
Hopefully you’re not thinking, “Why bother when no one will know I was responsible for half of these gestures.” Because the recognition of your actions has nothing to do with the need for the actions themselves. And let’s face it – your efforts are very likely to go unnoticed, met with ridicule, or received with arrogant expectation. (Welcome to the modern world.)
Yet we who believe in the importance of kindness continue to move forward knowing that others may continue to prize conflict over connection. We do so with the hope that our actions will make a difference for at least one human being, fully accepting that kindness, in and of itself, is the reward. Because if those of us who cherish kindness no longer foster an unselfish world, who will?
Please share this article with as many people as possible, so that together, we can spread kindness from our own lives into countless others. –– Patrick Stephens
Patrick Stephens is the author of Moditations: Self-Inspiration and Encouragement for Modern Life, available at moditations.com and on Amazon. Follow him for free monthly inspirations.
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