November 30, 2021

A Fine Lesson in Do-goodery

Guest Opinion
By Mary Keyes Rogers | Nov. 13, 2021

Those gathered at the recent memorial service for American statesman Colin Powell were reminded of his commitment to kindness in both his leadership and daily life. “Don’t just show kindness in passing or to be courteous,” Powell once said. “Show it in depth, show it with passion, and expect nothing in return. Kindness is not just about being nice. It’s about recognizing another human being who deserves care and respect.”

For a civilized population, We’ve become ridiculously unruly. In turn, our childish and selfish priorities have made us blind to those in our midst. Somehow, in our supposedly evolved state, we seem to be headed in the wrong direction when it comes to common courtesy in considering the needs and feelings of our neighbors. This is especially true with strangers. Fellow humans, whose acquaintance we have not made, are given no thought at all.

We’re screaming and punching, demanding that everything be exactly the way we want it to be — for ourselves. From punching airline employees to cursing at cashiers or ignoring someone in need of a hand with a bag of groceries, we’ve simply lost all sense of how to behave. 

As I am scheduled to be in four airports and on four flights this week, I find myself wondering if my travel insurance covers airline-passenger battle wounds.

Corporations are now offering kindness training programs for both customer service workers, managers, and executives. Several books and podcasts on the topic will be released in the coming months, all promoting kindness. I think this is great. who doesn’t want more kindness in the world? But do we need training? At the very least, let’s all agree we need to get back into practice.

I’m going to suggest that you become a tad more aware of opportunities to flex your kindness muscle. Watch your decision-making process to learn a bit about yourself.

I’ll share a story of a recent kindness failure of my own that taught me a fine lesson in the art of do-goodery. My advice: When you see that opportunity to sprinkle some magical kindness dust on another person’s moment, just do it and move on. Do not overthink it.

Over the last several years, I have frequently paid for the purchase of the car behind me in the drive-thru line of fast-food restaurants or the toll when crossing the Mackinac Bridge. It’s an easy way to reassure a stranger that the world is still a cool place to be, and I get a nice rush of dopamine. I will freely admit to some self-serving mental health practice going on here.

Last week, my adult daughter and I were in the drive-thru at Starbucks, preparing to order our Pumpkin Spice Lattes, which were cliché-perfecto for our fall color tour through the Tunnel of Trees, when I suggested that we pay for the car behind us.

The kindness-correct thing to do would have been for us to squeal like a couple of giddy girls and be tickled about putting a smile on a stranger’s face. But instead, and much to our shame, we morphed into a couple of Seinfeld characters (awful but very likable people) when we preemptively looked in our side-view mirrors to size up the lucky recipients of our kindness. This was a mistake, and all I will tell you is that we quickly and undeniably became conversationally awful people.

We do know better, catching ourselves as we watched our good intentions circle the drain.

The key to kindness is to give it freely and without judgment of how deserving the recipient may or may not be. To be kind is to be kind, regardless. It is in that split-second moment of deciding precisely how you are going to treat a specific individual that we will flourish or fail as human beings. Do they look like they need my kindness? Would they do the same for me? Are they worthy of my gesture? Circle the drain, circle the drain. 

Nov. 13 is World Kindness Day, and the entire month is National Kindness Month, conveniently making this an excellent time to test your generosity with kindness.

I hope that you will practice random acts or intentionally planned expressions of kindness this month. Seek out situations where somebody needs a helping hand or a door opened. Send a thank-you note, tell a friend why you appreciate them, and be creative in your giving.

Don’t overthink it. Be generous and kind, and move on.

Mary Keyes Rogers is an independent podcaster, blogger, and freelance writer living in Traverse City. mary@experience50.com

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