Most of us have been taught from when we were children to practice acts of kindness with those around us. However, aside from becoming known as a virtuous person, what is the underlying reason we take pleasure in being kind to others? Is it that we like to make a positive difference in someone else’s life through our good deeds? Perhaps, but maybe it’s more complicated than that.
In my case, expressing kindness toward another makes me feel good about myself. It creates an emotional high that makes me feel warm inside, grateful like a five-year old who’s just earned her first gold star in kindergarten for ‘playing nice.’
Meredith Gaston, author of The Art of Kindness and my new soul sister, has written a compelling new book on the topic of kindness that could be a companion piece to my forthcoming book on storytelling, Your Turn, which comes out this July. I find her philosophy closely aligned with my own, which is why I enjoy her words so much. While our writing styles are different, I promise that Meredith’s book includes many inspirational tips for making the world a better place. She reminds us that it’s ‘little things’, such as the kind act of giving up your seat on a train to a young woman with a crying toddler that can change someone’s “no good” day to one that telegraphs, You Matter.
Years ago, when I lived in Illinois, Laura, my daughter lived close by in Madison, Wisconsin. On occasion, I’d drive to spend the weekend with her. At the time, the toll booths were not automated. One of my favorite things was to pay the toll for the car in line behind me. Why? Why did that feel good? I can’t articulate the reason. Perhaps our body produces endorphins when we are proud of something we do for someone, especially if we keep it a secret and don’t brag about it. Perhaps we are motivated by the viral nature of random acts of kindness, hoping it will inspire others, as was the case in 2017. In that instance, a woman in line at a Pittsburgh Starbucks paid for the order of the car behind her, an act that was repeated for 160 cars that day and which made national headlines.
One of my favorite chapters in my upcoming book, Your Turn is on the topic of gratitude. It includes stories from my own life where I have experienced profound gratitude. Again, while living in Chicago, our church volunteers rotated with members of other churches once a month to serve meals to homeless people. Laura and I volunteered. Laura would go early to the church to help prepare a huge kettle of soup. Later, in the afternoon, I would join the group to prepare sandwiches and bag each meal.
One Saturday night, as we set up our serving line downtown in the Belmont area where our hungry guests were gathering, it began to rain. We’d set up the serving table and kettle of soup against the curb but in the street. Our hungry, wet friends hung their plastic bags of food on the wrought iron fence as they ate.
As I stood at the head of the serving line, I introduced myself by name and then go into my recitation of the evening’s sandwich choices; bologna, chicken, and peanut butter and jelly, etc. “We also have fruit,” I added.
I’ll never forget Matt, one of my customers that night. “What would you prefer?” Matt simply stood there gawking at me. “Sir,” I repeated, “we have bologna, chicken and peanut butter as well as a choice of fruit.” After a long drawn out silence, Matt said, “Ma’am, I haven’t been called “Sir” in so long that I can’t remember the last time.” Tears welled up in Matt’s eyes.
Goosebumps surged down my spine. I was so stunned by his response that I stepped out from behind the serving table and put my hand out to shake his.
“My name’s Tyra. What’s yours?” I asked.
“I’m Matt,” he said. Our hands clasped.
“It’s so nice to meet you. Matt, there’s mustard or mayonnaise and hot coffee at the end of the line. Enjoy. And Matt, it’s so good to meet you.”
Matt and the other guests we served that night may have gained temporary sustenance from a hearty meal, but I left that night inspired in the realization that Matt and his friends were the true givers. The gift was mine; I will never forget Matt.
The profound lesson of kindness is that every time we share a good deed with another person, our own souls gain worth and a sense of purpose and fulfillment. Think about your own life and share your own experiences of kindness – both giving and receiving it – and how those experiences have shaped the person you are.
© Tyra Manning 2019