Thursday, February 28, 2013

Are Obligated Acts of Kindness Rewarding?

In late January I had several creative ideas on how I would show kindness to strangers. I was eager to execute them and blog about the experiences. But sometimes our plans are interrupted by more urgent matters.

My elderly mother fell and broke her arm in 4 places late last month. Not only was it her favored arm, but the experience also decimated her ability to walk safely on her own. Suddenly my siblings and I found ourselves needing to provide care for her 24x7. Virtually all of our plans, not just my kindness plans, were dropped. We knew our obligation and adjusted our schedules appropriately.

I can remember countless evenings growing up when my dad would arrive home late after milking the cows and my mom would complain that his dinner was cold. He had been spending time with his aged dad and providing care for him (even though he had a live in care giver). He would do this most evenings after having already worked 14 ½ hours (farming was not the easy life). This left an impression in my young mind that I too would someday help care for my own elderly parents. It was never a question in my mind; it was an understood “obligation” of the parent-child contract.

While showing kindness in quick little encounters with strangers is easy (even fun sometimes), showing kindness out of “obligation” for extended periods of time, especially when it conflicts with your own plans for fun, is much more difficult. Where’s the fun in escorting your elderly parent to and from the bathroom or cutting their food into small bites or … again and again?

Sacrificing (i.e. showing kindness) for your own children (especially when they are babies) comes pretty easy, at least in my own experience. But when the roles are reversed and you the child are sacrificing for your parent you really come face to face with your own selfishness … or selflessness.

Writing this blog has definitely caused me to be more reflective about kindness and my own character. If I only showed kindness when it didn’t conflict with my schedule or when there was the quick reward of a smile or a thank-you I would be a pretty shallow person (I probably wouldn’t like myself very much). While the deeper form of kindness isn’t always easy, the reward is worth it.

Did I write “reward”? Yes, I have found caring for my temporarily (she is improving quickly) invalid mother rewarding. I found that I was able to maintain a good attitude, provide her with quality care when I was on duty, and actually enjoy serving her (as she had done for me so many times during my youth).

Don’t get me wrong, caring for an elderly parent is hard work (emotionally, mentally and physically). If it weren’t for my siblings (especially my sister who took the lead) sharing the effort I would have been overwhelmed. But fortunately, the experience this past month was filled with acts of kindness, which even though they were done under obligation, were still rewarding.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

The Kindness Question

When out among people, certain questions tend to pop into my mind (e.g. "Did I remember to brush my teeth today?", "Will anyone notice my mismatched socks?", etc.). Since starting this Blog, I've tried to supplement those ... clearly important ... questions with THE KINDNESS QUESTION: "What act of kindness can I do right now in my present situation?" I try to make it almost like a game.

This post is just a collection of little (sometimes very little) acts that THE KINDNESS QUESTION has prompted me to do.

The Waiting Room
While sitting in a waiting room at a medical facility I was joined by a young pregnant woman. I decided to put THE KINDNESS QUESTION to work.

My first act was to offer her the footrest that was in front of my own chair (which I had been enjoying). She accepted it and clearly enjoyed the relief it brought.

Realizing that the wait would be extended, I decided to go get a cup of coffee. I offered to get something for the expectant mother. She smiled and specified a type of tea … which I gladly got for her along with my coffee.

My final chivalrous act was to share homemade chocolate chip cookies that my daughter had brought … (yes, my daughter brings cookies to medical facilities, doesn’t everyone?) … with everyone in the room.

The Restaurant
Through years of business travel and my own families work experiences I’ve come to realize that restaurant servers don’t always get the appreciation they deserve. It’s not an easy job and some customers can be downright rude. So whenever I’m at a restaurant, I put THE KINDNESS QUESTION to work.

Step one; I greet the server with a friendly hello and ask how they are doing. It’s extra fun when I’m able to greet them a split second before they attempt to greet me. Catching them off guard always puts a smile on their face. If I’ve recently heard an appropriate joke (nothing political, religious, racial or sexual) and they seem receptive I’ll tell them the joke. Results have been positive so far.

Step two; I clean up at my table when I’m done. As a coffee drinker, I neatly stack all the used creamer containers together. This helps prevent leftover creamer spillage when the server clears the table. This act of kind tidiness ... AKA kindiness ... has received high praise from several servers.

Step three; I make sure to sincerely compliment the server on their efforts. At a recent large group restaurant gathering, our server wasn’t the one who took payment, so I walked over to her, addressed her by name and told her she did a great job (which she did).


Clearly none of these acts warrant any Nobel prizes, but most of them (I’ve always enjoyed stacking creamers) would not have been done without THE KINDNESS QUESTION. And I can assure you that in the past, sharing any homemade chocolate chip cookies was only done under protest.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Grumpy vs. Kind: My Battle of The Day

I have a pretty good (OK, really good) life overall, but that doesn't mean there aren't things that bring me down. And when I'm down, sowing kindness isn't exactly my default condition ... grumpiness is. But since this Blog is NOT named SowingGrumpiness, I need a technique in my mental toolbox to make sure I have something positive to write about here.

The other day I was walking in an unnamed super-store ... famous for low prices and low wages ... feeling quite grumpy (don't even remember why, now). I was avoiding the friendly eye-contact and intentional smiles that I had been consciously practicing. I just wanted to find my item and get out of the store without having to exchange any "pleasantries" with anyone ... you know, just like I used to be. Then I thought of this Blog and the reasons I started it. I wondered, how on earth could I be kind to the checker, the one human I couldn’t avoid in the store? The checker wasn't responsible for my grumpiness, but I knew that if I didn't change my attitude they might feel like they were.

So here's the cool part of this post ... here's the "brilliant" mental technique I personally invented and fully intend to patent. I paused in the bathroom accessories aisle (another aisle might work, but I haven’t verified that yet) and tried to think of something that had recently made me laugh.  A very funny YouTube video came to mind and within about 10 seconds … WHAM … I started smiling.

(Note: For the Bon Qui Qui fans out there … “I will Cut you”)
Humor is the elixir of grumpiness. And what’s great is that it’s available free! People are actually giving this stuff away. There are hilarious YouTube videos, Facebook amateur comedians and countless other sources of laugh-out-loud elixir. We should all imbibe of it frequently and in great quantities, then when we need it we can mentally recall it.

So what happened next … the friendly eye-contacts and intentional smiles were back. I was now ready to engage the checker.
I’ve found that being friendly to checkers is an easy way to sow a little kindness in the world. It doesn’t take a lot of time and it doesn’t cost anything. I simply greet them warmly by name, if possible, and show a sincere interest in how their day is going. Thanks to my little … patent pending … mental technique, this day was no exception. I hope the checkers day was a little better because of me.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Is Kindness Ever an Inconvenience?

Let me start off by saying I've not generally been eager to "inconvenience" myself just to be kind. If there is an opportunity right in front of me, no problem, I will respond with kindness. But go out of my way or disrupt MY plans? ... Hmm, I'll have to think about that for awhile … what’s in it for me?

Hopefully, writing this Blog and changing the way I think about opportunities to be kind will help fix that character deficit.

When I heard my best friend’s mother had died, just 5 days before Christmas, I knew that I should go visit him (as he had selflessly done for me when my dad died 9 years earlier). But it was Christmas week and he lives over 2000 miles away! Not to mention the cost of last-minute airline tickets during Christmas week! A phone call and nice card (maybe going to visit in a few months, when it was more "convenient") should be acceptable ... right??? Wrong! I had to go.

So I enjoyed a condensed Christmas with my family on the 24th and early on Christmas day I was heading to Texas to be with another family. 9 hours later … after a white-knuckle drive through heavy snowfall and equipment problems (the Air Conditioner had to be fixed as they de-iced the wings, huh?) with the airplane … I was warmly greeted by my friend and his 2 wonderful daughters. There was no doubt that I had made the right decision by coming.

Knowing how to act when someone loses a loved one is never easy for me. What can I say? What can I do? What does kindness look like? There are no right answers. Sometimes the only kindness that can be shown is simply your presence. So for the next 3 days I gave them my presence … trying to be both a distraction (comic relief?) and a comfort, without being an added burden.

Did I succeed in my mission? You’ll have to ask them to be sure, but I think in some miniscule way my efforts to sow a little kindness reaped a good harvest. Maybe the best thing to come from this was the change in my own heart … the realization that showing kindness is never really an inconvenience.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Anonymous: To Be or Not To Be?

I initially thought I'd write this Blog anonymously. My reasons included:
  1. I didn't want it to be about how "wonderful" I was, by doing "all" these kind things
  2. I thought it would be fun from a writing perspective to hide my gender and hint at my identity
  3. I was afraid I might do a poor job (at both writing and at being kind)
  4. I wanted to avoid any personally directed negative feedback
{in other words I was a little afraid to put myself out there}

But a fellow Blogger challenged me on this issue, so I decided to reconsider.

Will writing anonymously make this Blog better or worse? Will the anonymity give me an easy out (I could just drop it and no one would really know)? Will attaching my name keep me from writing as freely? I guess the only question that should really matter is what would be more likely to increase the amount of kindness in the world (which is supposed to be my goal)?

Knowing myself, as I do, I'm pretty sure it would be too easy to let this whole thing drop as the busyness of life overtook my schedule. If I let this drop, I would probably revert to my previous way of thinking ... which lacked the conscious question "what kind thing could I do in this situation?" Though naturally a pretty kind person ... once known as "Kind Ken" in an adjective name icebreaker game  ... if I don't have that question in my mind I won't be as kind or I won't be kind as often. So regardless of whether or not anyone ever actually reads this Blog, if I don't reveal myself (creating some level of accountability) there would be less kindness in the world.

Therefore my real identity shall forevermore be associated with this Blog.

If anyone sees me being unkind, feel free to remind me about my Blog. But please be kind about it ... that way you too can help to increase the amount of kindness in the world.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Day I Cried at my Barista

The other morning I had a bit of an emotional meltdown while getting my morning cup of Joe. Mind you, I’m not normally the type to cry in public (except quietly, at the appropriate times, in a dark theater showing a tear jerker), but this particular morning I broke with convention … right in front of a poor unsuspecting young lady.
“Why?” you ask. Well it was one of those synergistic events where the combined effect of multiple things was greater than the sum of the individual things.

The first leg of my rickety emotional chair was the recent death of my step father. Watching my elderly mother go through the 2nd death of a husband (in less than a decade) had definitely saddened me and caused reflection on the pains in life.

The second leg of my wobbly chair was the recent Sandy Hook school shootings. Every day since that tragic event I found myself tearing up with a sense of hopelessness and sorrow. I tend to literally feel the emotional pain of others (AKA contagious empathy), if I allow myself to focus on their suffering.

The third leg of my now teetering chair was my choice of iPod genres. I chose “Country” (need I say more?) and had listened to “Concrete Angel” that morning (thanks a lot Martina). In fact, feeling emotionally safe in my car, I pushed the replay button and listened to it a second time.  I didn’t see the train wreck ahead.

The final leg of my collapsing chair was a text message I got just as I pulled into the coffee stand. I could have waited until I was safely alone at work to read it, but Oh No why wait? This resulted in my reading that … my dearest friends’ mother had just died and I was needed to comfort my friend … seconds before pulling up to my Baristas window.

I lost it.

I’ll skip the gory details and just say that my Barista (who probably deserved combat pay that day) gave me a hug and showed a level of kindness and compassion far too rare in our modern society.

After I explained the sequence of events that had preceded my (somewhat embarrassing) incident we started talking about the difficulties of life and how little acts of kindness can effect people in ways beyond what we imagine. She had recently learned how her purposeful smiles and friendly greetings had helped someone endure a particularly trying time. I shared my long held belief that happiness and joy are not limited resources to be hoarded, but can be increased in the world by individuals choosing to seek out opportunities to show kindness.

This brings me to the purpose of this Blog. The above incident and other recent life events have helped me to realize that while I can’t stop the suffering in the world I can do something to ease it.

“What?” you ask. With a demanding job, spouse, kids, home, elderly parent, health issues, etc. and barely enough energy to drag myself out of bed some mornings it won’t be earth shaking, but it will be something. For the next year I intend to use my limited time, energy, and skills (e.g. kind heart, sense of humor, creativity?) to do little intentional acts of kindness and Blog about the experiences.

Who knows, maybe others will follow suit and there will be a snowball effect with people all over the world doing intentional acts of kindness!!! Or maybe I will only succeed at putting smiles on a few people’s faces. That’s OK too, because in the wise words of Buddy the Elf “I just like to smile, smiling’s my favorite.”