I recently saw an advertisement for a T-shirt with the slogan “In a world where you can be anything, be kind.” And while the phrase may feel a bit cliché, I loved the message of it and even as someone who has a real aversion to “clothing with words on it,” it’s a shirt I felt I had to acquire. Not because, as anyone who knows me can attest, I needed another article of clothing but because those are words I feel so strongly about, words I want to embrace and make my own.
It seems funny to me that we have to even see kindness as a choice, that it isn’t always “the norm” for all of our behavior, that it isn’t the baseline for every interaction. Many of us were raised with clear expectations, which, at least in my family, were often repeated. The words “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything,” and “You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar,” were often accompanied by the reminder that it takes “fewer muscles to smile than to frown.”
Yet we live in a world where much of this basic civility seems to have vanished or is, at least, tucked well beneath the surface. We walk down a crowded street and get elbowed or shoved without a word of apology. We raise our voices – and more – when anything does not go our way, from the simplest things to the most complex. Rudeness often seems to triumph over courtesy and entitlement over gratitude.
As we move into the Thanksgiving holiday, we have an opportunity to really think about what the word “thankful” means, in both the broader sense and in our own lives. And it seems to me that being grateful is at the root of being kind. If we operate from a place of appreciation, if we truly, at our core, practice gratitude, then kindness is an outgrowth.
What does that kindness look like? Working in an elder care environment, I see it all day, every day. It’s greeting individuals with a smile and looking into their faces, whether they are standing at your eye level or seated in a wheelchair, whether they have the ability to respond to you or not. Kindness is as simple as offering directions to someone who appears to be lost, holding a door to help someone go through it, picking up a sweater that has slipped from someone’s shoulders to the floor. Kindness lives in the hug a staff member gives a resident or family member—or one another. It lives in the act of listening, really listening, to someone who has something to share, even if you have heard it a million times before.
Kindness is like a muscle that many of us have forgotten to exercise. But it’s still there, just maybe a little stiff from disuse. What would happen if you stopped and took a moment to say thank you, or picked up the phone to connect with a friend or loved one you haven’t spoken to in sometime. What if you made an effort to add kindness to your behaviors and to your life?
Truly in a world where you can be anything, choose to be kind.