Everyone needs kindness. Whether they “deserve” it or not. Haven’t you had a bad day when someone said or did one small thing that gave you a needed boost? The people most in need of kindness are often the very people who are disliked and avoided. Everyone suffers. Judging who is, or is not, worth kindness is misunderstanding its value. Life has demonstrated that when I intentionally practice kindness, I am a recipient of its benefits, too.
“Treat everyone you meet as if their heart were breaking, because it probably is.” – Dale Carnegie
An incident in my early career years brought the importance of kindness into my life. I moderated televised political candidate forums in a large metropolitan area. As leader in the local League of Women Voter’s organization, I followed strict requirements to present questions in a fair and non-prejudicial way.
The local newspaper was a major sponsor of election debates. Their political reporter, a fiery woman I’ll refer to here as Marion, was known to demand perfection. Her presence at the first debate made me nervous but she seemed pleased as the evening progressed. In addition to handling audience questions and calming nervous candidates, I was required to strictly respond to the cameraman’s signal to stop the live forum proceedings for a commercial break. As I thanked our sponsors during one break, the cameraman signaled me to immediately resume the forum. Unfortunately, the one sponsor I had not yet had time to thank – was Marion’s newspaper.
Marion was furious. She had no idea of my dilemma; she only knew I had neglected to thank her newspaper. Red-faced, she glared at me and stalked out. I managed to complete the event, but when I got home I was totally distraught. What should I do? What right did she have to stalk out without giving me a chance to explain? What would we do if the morning’s newspaper reports were negative? Unable to sleep, at eleven PM, I called her to apologize and explain. I figured she was already mad, so I might as well let her rant and get it over with.
As late as it was, Marion answered and listened as I spoke. Then there was silence. When she did speak, her voice was quiet and shaky. “I’m so sorry I stomped out, Ellie. This has been a difficult day for me. I just learned I have advanced cancer.”
She poured out her distress and began crying. I learned she had no local family and few friends. She was alone, facing the possibility of death. I offered help, and over following weeks visited her in the hospital and assisted in getting her set up when she returned home. I learned to appreciate her devotion to reporting and her wry sense of humor. Our mutual respect grew and our future endeavors ran smoothly.
I am thankful Marion stalked out that night. Every challenging situation I’ve met has overflowed with insights for me. Marion taught me to be kind regardless of my state of mind. I learned to not judge others, but instead to honor their story and support them as best I can. I learned to apologize immediately and face consequences so I don’t have to carry around the horrible feeling of having done something wrong. I learned that I can incorrectly interpret another’s intentions; Marion’s demanding quality was actually a sincere intensity to get important facts out to the public.
When I require myself to be kind to unkind people, they often soften their attitude and the situation resolves. People who are deeply suffering often pour out their hearts as if they were waiting for just this opportunity. Of course, kindness doesn’t work for everyone. Some people prefer to be unkind to push others away. Others appear to be missing some mysterious empathy gene. Those, I write off and move on, knowing I tried.
If you live with an unkind person, and they seem to take unfair advantage of your kindness, it may require setting stronger boundaries. But first, try kindness. What unkind person is currently in your life? How can you demonstrate kindness to them? Isn’t offering kindness worth a try?
Take life into your own hands and make it happen. It’s your life. Lead it.
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