Those of us organizing the Care and Kindness conference each year, more that anything else, covet stories, anecdotes and other evidence that those who believe in this campaign are to some extent changed by it. We are so deeply thrilled by the stories we hear that cite actions and attitudes that are conspicuously altered in the direction of care and kindness, beyond what they had previously performed.
Since embarking on this project almost ten years ago, I have changed in several small ways. In some ways I feel obliged to experiment, try out new behaviors, do what we are so urgently talking about.
The first way I have changed is in my interaction with those I have dealings with in stores, banks, gas stations and other places of business. I consistently make eye contact, smile, use their names when a nametag is present, and in parting I hand over a compliment or words of appreciation. It is easy to do. It just requires a conscious intention, a little thought and a small effort. The results are not always obvious, but usually, clearly, a tired heart has been touched. Almost always a genuine smile is produced — a satisfying reward I enjoy.
And I believe often these simple gifts generate Hope in someone in whom Hope may be waning.
The second way is small also but rewarding as well. It is a thoughtful agenda to more actively greet folks I meet when walking around a mall, the neighborhood, or elsewhere. The results have been satisfying. For instance, there is the middle-aged guy we often pass on our morning walks. Usually he is approaching, or is inside his rather aged automobile. When inside the car, he is grinding the starter, trying to get it running. It never starts easily.
Finally one day I said “Good morning.” This is harder when no eye contact has been offered. He turned, gave a slight grin, and greeted us. Ever since that morning he sees us coming and readily bids us a good day. We are like friends as a result of one greeting forced upon him.
Another satisfying interchange happened when we passed a middle-aged man getting into his car early one morning. I said to him “You look sharp.” I said it because he was well groomed with a white shirt, tie and suit coat. He smiled and told us how he had been unemployed for a long time and his unemployment compensation had expired, so he went to Hollywood and signed up to be an Extra in movies or on TV. He told us he’d been kept very busy, earned a little in the process, and that it sure beat doing nothing. He seemed radiant that he could tell us about his innovative approach to unemployment.
A third commitment I have made is to consistently approach speakers, performers, musicians, teachers and others, when possible, after they have made their presentations. After the event I head for the front to thank and appreciate personally the work of him or her who has just given us their best effort. Most often I am up there one-to-one with the person. All others have headed directly for the exit.
A fourth small idea I am carrying out, with moderate consistency, is to give at least a brief word of acknowledgment for emails sent, the humorous ones, the patriotic or spiritual kinds, so consistently received. Sometimes it is just “thanks”. Whether appreciated or not, I will offer a word.
These are small examples of conscious efforts to connect with people a little more personally; to show interest; to act like we care; to give the gift of appreciation, or at least to notice them as human beings.
It is simple to carry out my campaign to practice what I preach, but it does require constant thoughtfulness. It easily slips away in the hurry and ‘busy-ness’ of everyday living. But I am committed to it and find that it is becoming habitual and almost automatic the more I do what I should.
Jesus calls us “the light of the world.” Shining a little more brightly takes effort and a cognitive decision to push myself out of my comfort zone. It is no life-threatening move, just comfort-unsettling for a little while until the change becomes natural and pleasant.
The fuel for the effort required to behave differently comes from looking to Jesus. There is the energy source that can constantly replenish us when tired, forgetful or discouraged. Looking to Jesus, we can change the world — inch by inch, and find our enthusiasm restored as needed.