My generation grew up on the adage, "If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all." In our household, my mother usually employed the admonition just after one of my brothers or I tried to call each other names or get someone in trouble. It was effectively shaming, but also super frustrating when you just wanted to let loose about the latest sibling injustice.
I don't know if this truism has gone out of parenting style or not. Certainly, I don't recall using it with my own kids. Not that I let them have at it when they came running to me with a hard luck story, but probably because I couldn't effectively role-model the sentiment. Just ask either of my kids to recall car rides in rush hour traffic. Turned the air blue, I tell you.
But, is that to say kind words or even kindness itself no longer counts? Not at all. In fact, I would argue that now more than ever kindness toward one another is vital to our emotional well-being. Some days it feels like an uphill climb; other days, it comes easy. Depends on the mood and the news of the day.
Not one to quote the bible, but I recollect something about turning the other cheek. Water off a duck's back also comes to mind. How about taking the high road? They are all of a piece, aren't they? As human beings, we all of us have the capability to treat others with good vibes, soft words, and compassionate deeds. Sure, we can do the opposite, too. Which only means that in every moment of every day we have a choice to make.
Paul and I have been walking lately at Island Lake in Mono, ON. Every person we pass greets us with a hearty "good morning" and we reciprocate. Some of them even let us pet their dogs who, let's face it, are kindness and good vibes incarnate. All wagging tails, and slobbering kisses.
The magic of kindness is that it brings us toward one another. It pulls us into each others' orbit; we connect; we both feel good. Altruism be damned. If you ever need a boost of positive energy, just be actively kind to someone. Instant high.
By contrast, cruelty and selfishness only serve to push away, to separate us from our common humanity. There are no good feelings here for either party. Everyone leaves the encounter feeling bitter, anxious, shamed, and angry. Yuck.
Not much can make me cry as readily as witnessing an act of kindness. It gets me right in the heart, all that unfettered love generously given, and felt by not only the recipient but all of us who witness it. An act of kindness lets us know we are seen, we are appreciated, we matter. In a world where people and their experiences are becoming increasingly isolated, increasingly siloed off, the universality of kindness is a gentle balm to the soul. It reminds us that we belong and that someone cares.
I will always remember the day when my daughter, Pilar, was a just a babe-in-arms. I'd tucked her into her Snuggly, strapped her across my chest and took to the subway. A young woman approached me; it looked like she'd been crying. She said something like. "I am having a really hard day and I would love to see a baby's smile." So, I turned around enough that she could glimpse Pilar's pudgy little face. As if on cue, Pilar looked the woman in the eye and broke into a broad, welcoming, smile, all toothless gums and pure joy. The exchange between Pilar and this woman brought tears to my eyes. It was an extraordinary moment of connection.