There’s that quote you’ve likely heard: “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a harder battle” — attributed to Plato — or one of the similar iterations by others: “Be kind because everyone is fighting a battle you know nothing about,” and “Be kind because everyone is carrying a heavy burden.” You get the point. Be kind. You have no idea what someone might be dealing with.
I’m thinking a lot about the hard things people around me are carrying every day: kids with chronic illnesses, breakups of long-term relationships, terrifying health diagnoses, deaths. Less horrible things still cause immense strain. As friends put on brave (even smiling) faces to get through the day, they are often holding so much sadness and pain, I wonder how they even put on their pants in the morning. Yet they do that and go to meetings, buy groceries, feed their cats.
All I want for them is a modicum of kindness. A reminder that we humans are in this together, a small gesture that says we’ve got each other.
Deep, but invisible, injuries can make going through simple tasks overwhelming, and yet, they do it. We do it. I’ve been one of them — and will be again — holding my breath, my body, my self, just barely making it to the car before bursting into tears. And now I see it in the eyes of those around me. I see it because I know how it feels. Naomi Shihab Nye’s poem, “Kindness,” says it better:
Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
Some behave as though the difficult thing they are going through gives them a pass to be an asshole, which is not OK. But they are hurting, and maybe someone else’s radical kindness toward them will offer a sweet slap, reminding them that all of life is not horrible, that darkness isn’t forever, that people can be kind. It’s incredible how far it can go, especially when life is hard.
Today, I listened to a student recall her early days at college, her first time away from home when she was nervous and overwhelmed, and what it meant for the manager of the mailroom to simply help her learn how to unlock her mailbox. A man told a story about how good it felt that each time his coworker ran into him, he shook his hand and said his name aloud. In a community gathering, the simple act of listening to each other respectfully was itself an act of kindness.
Another poem I read recently with its perfect title, “Small Kindnesses” by Danusha Laméris, makes the point more beautifully (selected for the New York Times by none other than Nye!)
We have so little of each other, now. So far
from tribe and fire. Only these brief moments of exchange.
What if they are the true dwelling of the holy, these
fleeting temples we make together when we say, “Here,
have my seat,” “Go ahead — you first,” “I like your hat.”
Kindness indeed seems like the deepest thing to me right now. It’s really so easy, and it doesn’t cost a thing, yet its value is immense. Let’s practice it widely, rampantly, with abandon. I’ll go first:
Thanks so much for reading. It means a lot. I like your hat.