A few days ago I was leaving the gym which just happens to be the most hoppin’ place in town (ah, New Year’s resolutions). It was freezing and I was quickly trying to get Winnie in her car seat but she was resisting with all her might. As I fumbled around, I noticed a woman in the car right next to me. Crap, I thought. She’s waiting for me so she can open her door and go inside. Finally, I closed the car door, smiled sheepishly, and mouthed the word “sorry” to her. When I settled into the driver’s seat, she waved at me from outside the car and I rolled down my window. “I was watching you put your baby in the car and remembering something that happened to me 23 years ago with my son when he was a baby,” she said. “A man was sitting in a car next to mine, and while I was struggling to get my son into the seat, he rolled down his window and started yelling at me. Told me I was making him late for church. Watching you get your baby in the car brought that all back, and I remember how his words ruined my whole day.” The woman and I chatted for a minute or two about what a jerk that man was, and about the importance of kindness. I thanked her for being gracious while I got Winnie settled and then we said goodbye.
The next morning, I told this story to my family at breakfast. Everyone agreed that kindness, both to those we know and those we don’t, is one of the most impactful things we can practice. In a world full of vitriol and anger, kindness seems small and insignificant. But the truth is, kindness may just be the best way to fight contempt.
If you’re not into resolutions; if you prefer a word of the year as opposed to a goal; or if you are looking for an intention you can actually keep, I encourage you to consider radical kindness in 2018.
She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.
What does radical kindness look like in practical terms? Here are five things to try this week:
- Practice kindness with your spouse. Refrain from correcting, belittling, or arguing for two days (preferably a weekend). Journal your reflections of this exercise.
- Show radical kindness to your children. Do not raise your voice at them for an entire day (this is hard, believe me!). Work to dissolve tensions when they yell at you or each other. Make notes of how you did this and their response.
- Be kind to your coworkers. Assume good intent. Always. Resist the urge to be critical about work or a coworker for one week. Begin on a Monday. Make a note of when you are most tempted to complain.
- Write a letter you’ll never send to someone who has been unkind to you. Record the wrong, how it made you feel, and what you’re doing to move forward from that experience.
- Practice being radically kind to yourself. Carve out 30 minutes a day for one week just for you. This could mean going for a walk or run, reading a book, taking a bath, doing yoga, calling a girlfriend, or painting your nails. Schedule it on a calendar so you keep the appointment.
The best things about radical kindness? It spreads like a common cold. The results are tangible. And it becomes easier with practice.