A note home to parents explained that one of the elementary school students was diagnosed with and receiving treatment for cancer. The teacher wanted parents to know so that they could help explain to their child why the student might look and seem different, especially when she started to lose her hair.
My brother asked my niece if she knew the girl mentioned in the letter. Yes, she knew of her. “Do you know her name?”
“No,” responded my niece.
So he asked her: “One day this week, I want you to introduce yourself and ask her name. Then, tell me what happened.”
A few days passed before my niece gathered the courage to approach her classmate. She noticed the girl had been wearing a hat and coat, even when the students were inside the building. My niece thought this was strange and wondered if other students would think she was weird for talking to the girl. But, my niece also knew that her dad wouldn’t forget about his challenge.
“Dad, I said hi to that girl in my class today who’s sick,” she informed him later.
“Good for you. Did you learn her name?”
My niece reported that she did.
“How do you think the girl felt when you introduced yourself and said hi?” he asked.
“She had a big smile on her face,” she replied.
“And, how do you feel?” he pushed further.
My niece, beaming: “I feel GREAT!”
In a few days, my niece learned a few lessions:
- Being different is not a good reason to distance yourself from someone else, especially when that person is going through a tough time.
- It’s OK to step outside of your comfort zone to be kind.
- Offering kindness benefits both the receiver AND the giver.
More Kindness and Connection to Others
Earlier this month, at least 31 people were killed in two mass shootings in Texas and Ohio. Many aspects of these circumstances are upsetting, disappointing, and scary. To say the least.
There are a lot of issues that need to be resolved. Our leaders can’t agree on a pathway forward, which makes it challenging to know how to personally get involved—how to personally help prevent this kind of tragedy.
What I know for sure is that I can offer more kindness and connection to those who are different from me. I can give people I don’t know or who seem to have values different from mine the benefit of the doubt. I can trust that we are more alike than different.
Step-by-Step to Put the Fear Aside
If you would like to infuse your corner of the world with more kindness and try to connect to those different from you, here are some basic steps to take.
- Ask yourself if there is someone at work, your kid’s school, at the gym, etc. that you tend to shy away from because he or she doesn’t seem like “your kind of person” for one reason or another. Maybe it’s how they dress or act. Maybe it’s something you’ve heard about them from someone else.
- Dig deeper to find out why those differences hold you back … keep you stuck. Could it be the fear of the unknown? What might happen to your work, relationships, reputation, or something else important to you if you reached out to this person?
- Now, think about what you share. At a minimum, you both spend time in the same place. What does that place say about both of you? Do you share the same work mission? Do you both have children? A commitment to fitness? You get the idea.
- Challenge yourself to introduce yourself to this person: “Since I see you frequently at (this place), I wanted to introduce myself. It’s nice to meet you.”
- Look for evidence that the person appreciates your effort and kindness. What does their body language tell you? Their facial expression?
- Check in to see how you feel. Do you have feelings of happiness, gratitude, satisfaction, relief, or something else?
- Continue to be kind and connect with others different from you every chance you have.
I realize this seems basic. Like maybe you learned it in kindergarten. When a problem seems insurmountable, returning to the basics is a good place to start working toward a solution. If you frequently offer kindness to those different from you, how can you up-level your kindness and connection with others?
Wrapping It Up
A year or so ago, I made a commitment to myself that I would always thank the grocery store cashier by name. (Those name tags are there for a reason.) For a second we connect. We both feel good because they feel seen as a valuable person and I like intentionally acknowledging that I see him or her as an individual. The receiver AND the giver feel good!
During very difficult times, the one thing I can do is double down on kindness and inclusion!
What will you do? Tell me in the comments!