As we begin to emerge from this pandemic crisis, we are discovering the short and long term effects it has had on us in so many ways. We have had (and are still coping with) various kinds of stressors – financial, social, mental, physical and more. But this pandemic has also created opportunities: Opportunities to discover what we do not like about our lives and to make some positive changes, or opportunities to feel gratitude for things we already have and take for granted. One positive step towards change that I would like to see is more kindness in the world – and this begins by creating a kinder me.
Maybe it’s just me, but I think a lot of people would like to see an end to division, ugliness, finger pointing and blame, and would prefer to focus on positive things. I saw a glimmer of this recently.
There has been a lot of talk about a shortage of workers in the restaurant industry. I go to a certain restaurant often, and 2 weeks ago I went with a friend. They were running out of food and the service was a little crazy. The staff were trying their best, they remained friendly and there was a spirit of understanding in the air. When I received my omelet, it did not have the ingredients in it that I ordered. I ordered a veggie omelet, but they accidently gave me a sausage, bacon and cheese omelet. I didn’t notice until I took a couple of bites. It tasted so yummy – much yummier than veggies! By the time they noticed their error and brought the correct omelet, we all enjoyed a laugh when I said no thanks, the omelet I got tastes much better, and perhaps the person who ordered this omelet got veggies instead and took it as a sign to eat more veggies. In these situations, we can get frustrated, or we can find humor.
A week or so later, I was in the same restaurant with a different friend. The staff were friendly as ever, and we noticed they had hired some new employees. Suddenly, next to us we heard a huge crash. A new employee had dropped a tray, breaking dishes and spilling drinks. After a split second of silence, there was applause all around the restaurant. We all started sharing with the restaurant worker our own worst mistakes. We assured him that we understand that what he does is not easy, and we all screw up sometimes. He seemed to be embarrassed at first, but soon we were all laughing together.
One of my funniest memories from the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina was standing in a long grocery line with strangers, joking with each other and teasing a guy with a bag of ice by telling him that by the time he got to the front of the line he’d be buying a bag of water. I have learned that during times of crises, there really aren’t any strangers. We are all in the same boat – we recognize the humanity and fellow suffering in each other and we try to do what we can to be supportive and encouraging.
Kindness and humor can make any situation easier to handle. I am definitely not perfect at this. I have a sign on the back of my patio facing the street for everyone to see. It says “Bee Kind.” It is a reminder for all of us, me included. But recently, someone pushed my buttons, and let’s just say my response was not as kind as I would have liked it to be. It takes a lot of practice for our reactions to be kind in ALL situations. It is easy to be kind when others are being kind. It is hard to be kind all of the time.
How can we learn to automatically respond with kindness in all situations, rather than anger, indignation, frustration, aggravation, and other unhelpful emotions? Here are some things we can do to train our brains to be positive, which will help us to maintain good mental health habits for ourselves, and at the same time create a kinder world for everyone:
- Practice Gratitude. No matter what is happening in our lives, there is always something to be grateful for. Find those things. Keep a gratitude journal.
- Shush your inner critic. Many people tend to remember criticisms (against ourselves and others) more than we remember positive things. We remember failures, but we forget to document successes.
- Learn to recognize your emotions. When someone does something thoughtless, rude, or aggravating, stop and feel the emotion before responding. Do not judge the emotion, emotions are not bad, but slowing down to recognize the emotion for what it is may produce a healthier response to the situation. If a person is being inconsiderate, that is on them and their problem. Perhaps they are having a bad day. It doesn’t have to ruin our day.
- Make a conscious choice when waking up in the morning to choose to be kind in all situations. We may forget at times, and when we do, we can forgive ourselves and try to do better next time.
- Practice calming exercises – even when you are feeling calm at the time. When you have a spare few minutes, take deep breaths – 4 seconds in, hold for 4 seconds, 4 seconds out. Think of something peaceful during this time, such as ocean waves or a sunset. It is easy to believe that we do not have to practice calming exercises when we are feeling ok. But the idea is to practice even when we ARE ok, because practice makes perfect. We don’t only practice the piano when we think we are bad at it – we practice every day to become better, often doing the same repetitive exercises. Good mental health deserves the same attitude – the more we practice, the more we improve.
- Notice the beauty around you. Even if you are not in a beautiful meadow or on a seashore, there is something beautiful in your line of site. Look around now, what are some examples of beauty that you see?
- Recognize the humanity in all of us. Sometimes when I am driving in traffic, I become mindful that I am sitting in my car with my foot on the gas pedal, and all of the people in the cars around me are doing the same thing. I recognize that we are all in this world together in this moment.
I hope that I saw a permanent trend in the restaurant of people reacting with a spirit of kindness. Is this something we learned because of the pandemic? Or was it just an anomaly? I’m not sure, but I continue to hope that people are starting to realize how kindness really does matter. We can all change the world for the better, one kind act at a time.