As I waddled up to the door with Trader Joe's bags in each hand, an unknown hand reached the handle first and tugged it open. Once I reached the second door to the storefront, I turned to hold it open for the customer I thought was behind me and didn't see anyone there. Then it dawned on me. That woman just held the door for me. I was astounded and I walked through the Container Store in a daze that only a rush of endorphins from a random, and totally unsolicited, act of kindness (or a really good workout) can give you. I literally wanted to drop my bags and run out of the store so I could find this saintly woman and thank her for her gesture.What's wrong with me? At first, I chalked it up to being a New Yorker, completely jaded and totally unaccustomed to anything other than a side eye and a side step from fellow New Yorkers. But then I thought about it. Man, they just don't make 'em like that anymore. It didn't matter that this was a major U.S. city where people weave between each other with little to no eye contact. This was humanity. Kindness is a virtue lost on most of humanity. Society trains us expect the worst from those who don't "owe" us anything and to refrain from extending yourself to those we aren't directly connected with.
But perhaps, it's not all "doom and gloom". Strangely enough, over the past few months, kindness seems to be a theme that I've encountered quite a bit. Sometime this past fall, Carli Bybel hosted a "Random Act of Kindness" challenge, doing just that - challenging her viewers to step out of their comfort zones and do something randomly kind for another person. Of course,
there were some people who misinterpreted this as a ploy to secure more viewership, but it seemed more genuine than that. Regardless of her motives, Carli inspired countless viewers to extend themselves, whether that was purchasing a meal for a homeless person or gathering clothes for a family going through a crisis. And, I think, when it comes to kindness towards those in desperate need of it, the result outweighs the motive.
Two weeks after I completed the bar exam and about two months after graduating law school, my mom emailed me an inspiring article from the New York Times. The article features a convocation speech given by George Saunders at Syracuse University in May of this year. The speech was given with the intention of inspiring recent graduates to "err in the direction of kindness" no matter what forces work against them in that plight. Yet, in August, this message proved to be just as relevant to both my mom and I simply as people looking to be better people. And I think everyone can relate to that.
I've read this speech about ½ a dozen times and I find it just as moving with every re-read, finding new lessons and gems of wisdom tucked within the words of another. Here are a few of my favorite passages:
So here’s something I know to be true, although it’s a little corny, and I don’t quite know what to do with it:
What I regret most in my life are failures of kindness.
Those moments when another human being was there, in front of me, suffering, and I responded…sensibly. Reservedly. Mildly.
Or, to look at it from the other end of the telescope: Who, in your life, do you remember most fondly, with the most undeniable feelings of warmth?
Those who were kindest to you, I bet.
It’s a little facile, maybe, and certainly hard to implement, but I’d say, as a goal in life, you could do worse than: Try to be kinder.
Do all the other things, the ambitious things – travel, get rich, get famous, innovate, lead, fall in love, make and lose fortunes, swim naked in wild jungle rivers (after first having it tested for monkey poop) – but as you do, to the extent that you can, err in the direction of kindness. Do those things that incline you toward the big questions, and avoid the things that would reduce you and make you trivial. That luminous part of you that exists beyond personality – your soul, if you will – is as bright and shining as any that has ever been.
It's been over three months after stumbling upon this article, and I must admit that I'm still trying to find a way to truly implement this advice in my life. Like most people, I've always longed to be a part of something that was bigger than myself. I don't want to regret not stepping in with stronger force on behalf of someone who really needed me to. I want to be that unknown hand holding the door for someone with too much to carry - not because they asked me to but because I saw them and knew they needed a helping hand.
What do you think about the role kindness plays in our lives? Do you agree that for most it is secondary to a host of other things?