Did you know that Aug. 25-31 has been designated “Be Kind to Humankind Week”? I find that both wonderful and sad at the same time—wonderful because it is great to have a week assigned to something so powerful and sad because humans need to be reminded to be kind to one another.
Kindness is something that is often misunderstood as a weakness. While it’s true there are people who can be kind and weak at the same time, it’s more likely that choosing kindness is the more courageous choice. It requires attention, compassion and action.
Kindness often involves choosing to do something kind for someone else over your own selfish interests. First, you need to recognize there is a need for kindness and being aware of someone else’s needs requires actively tuning into what they might need or want rather than simply thinking about what you want and need.
After recognizing a need, you get to check in with yourself to decide whether you want to respond. There are so many things that you may do to be kind and an infinite amount of people to be kind to that no one person could possibly do it all. And yet, I am reminded of The Tale of the Starfish:
It all started when a young girl was walking along a beach upon which thousands of starfish had been washed up during a terrible storm. When she came to each starfish, she would pick it up, and throw it back into the ocean. People watched her with amusement. She had been doing this for some time when a man approached her and said, “Little girl, why are you doing this? Look at this beach! You can’t save all these starfish. You can’t begin to make a difference!” The girl seemed crushed, suddenly deflated. But after a few moments, she bent down, picked up another starfish, and hurled it as far as she could into the ocean. Then she looked up at the man and replied, “Well, I made a difference for that one!” The old man looked at the girl inquisitively and thought about what she had done and said. Inspired, he joined the little girl in throwing starfish back into the sea. Soon others joined, and all the starfish were saved.
After deciding to be kind, you want to determine the best act of kindness to fit the situation. Someone might want you to buy them a meal, while another might prefer seeds to plant and a fishing pole. Buying a gift for someone who has a lot of self-pride may not land the way you want, so it helps to ask people what would be appreciated. However, don’t just give the pat response, “Let me know if there is anything I can do.” That statement makes the receiver responsible for asking for help—a difficult thing for many people to do. Generic offers to help are often left unanswered.
Once you know what you want to do, work to see the humanity in the other person. This involves recognizing that you are no better than they are and that, as a member of humanity, they deserve certain basic needs, such as food, clothing, shelter, kindness, respect, independence and joy. See if you can visualize the thread that connects all of humanity and decide the role you want to play with your kindness. This requires understanding and compassion, not pity.
Compassion is not feeling sorry for someone’s circumstances. It’s about recognizing that, as a fellow human, this person could be you on a different day. Today you get to offer them kindness, and tomorrow, it could be you who needs to receive kindness. There is nothing separating you from them. The human connection binds us all in compassion and love.
The slightest kindness, such as a simple smile or hello, might just make someone’s day. You may encounter someone who is considering suicide, and your kindness might just provide them a reason to live one more day.
You never know what a person is going through, so if you assume positive intent until you have evidence to the contrary, kindness will be your default. To those who will tell you that you have been duped and taken advantage of, you can smile and say, “Thank you for your observation.” But inside, you will know that you lost nothing with your kindness, and no one can take advantage of you without your permission. If you don’t feel taken advantage of, then you weren’t. I can decide to help someone by giving them $200. Perhaps the story they told me was untrue, but does that mean they didn’t need the $200? Did I lose anything more because of it? If I was prepared to give $200, then I haven’t lost any more than if I had provided it to an honest person. I can choose to believe I was taken advantage of, be angry about it and vow never to be kind again, or I can become compassionate for the person who only knows how to lie to get what they want. I can smile knowing that I was being the person that I wanted to be. That doesn’t change regardless of the outcome.
So don’t just be kind to humankind during the last week in August. Try it all year round and see how many starfish you will save. Perhaps others will join you and everyone can be saved, including you.