It doesn’t cost anything to be kind is a motto my father modeled for me in his dealings with people throughout my life.
That could be in my dealing with the FedEx worker who needed a light for his cigarette, and we ended up chatting about the degree he just earned and his exploring the possibility of changing careers and becoming a teacher.
Maybe it’s the cup of coffee and the two-hour conversation about my current struggles this year at my job I have with my 84-year-old neighbor whose husband recently passed away.
It could be in my chatting up the convenience store clerk who sells me smokes or in my interacting and making jokes with the gas station employees near my job. Or even just having a pleasant, affable tone with the waitress at the diner.
Kids or adults; rich or poor; black, white, Latino, or something else – does not matter what the distinction is – all humans deserve and require one element, and only one element, to connect with them; that is, dignity. All desire to be respected and valued, not diminished or marginalized.
It’s far too easy to take a condescending tone or put someone down just because you can. I saw enough of that from a select few snobs at Fairfield U. I see plenty of that in my current position with teachers ill-equipped – and, in some case, unqualified – to deal with the next-generation student. So, bridging the gap between groups begins with respect on both sides and an acknowledgment that discussing differences does not divide, but instead brings us closer together. For then we are understanding, not classifying or singling out.
This motto that my father ingrained in my consciousness is one I apply to my dealings with my students. I began my introductory Grade 6 unit built around RJ Palacio’s Wonder with a discussion about the protagonist Auggie’s English teacher Mr. Browne. Browne provides the students with precepts, which, according to him, are “RULES ABOUT REALLY IMPORTANT THINGS!” (46). In short he uses them to frame class discussion in the same way a teacher might use a free-write to initiate a lesson. Each of the precepts essentially pertains to basic principles that should govern our lives:
- September – When given the choice between being right or being kind. Choose kind. – Dr. Wayne Dyer
- October – Your deeds are your monuments. – Inscription on Egyptian tomb
- November – Have no friends not equal to yourself” – Confucius
- December – “Fortune favors the bold – Virgil
- January – No man is an island, entire of itself – John Donne
- February – It is better to know some of the questions than al of the answers. — James Thurber
- March – Kind words do not cost much. Yet they accomplish much. —Blaise Pascal
- April – What is beautiful is good, and who is good will soon be beautiful. —Sappho
- May – Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as you ever can. —John Wesley’s Rule
- June – Just follow the day and reach for the sun! —The Polyphonic Spree
While all of the above precepts have the ability to change the way we look at the world and how we interact in it, the one I want to focus on is “Kind words do not cost much. Yet they accomplish so much.” The diction is simple, but the meaning is profound. Our words, the looks we give others, the way we treat them can all be powerful positive or negative agents. We can build people up with them just as quickly as we can tear them down.
Putting that into practice on a consistent basis is where the challenge lies because, frankly, sometimes we’re just not happy at work, at home, in our families, with our friends. I think sometimes we – myself definitely included – externalize so much of what we are feeling and take it out on others who truly do not deserve it, whether that be someone we love or someone we don’t even know. Yet, when we take a step back and reflect – I’ve been reading Jesuit literature recently, can’t you tell? – we’re able to see how much good we can do with kindness even if we might not be in the mood to be kind.
Whether it’s listening or just acknowledging a person, while the gesture might seem so minuscule to us, for someone else in need it could make the difference between getting from one day to the next or not.
As Tupac Shakur wrote in “The Power of a Smile”:
The power of a gun can kill
and the power of fire can burn
the power of wind can chill
and the power of a mind can learn
the power of anger can rage inside
until it tears u apart but the power of a smile
especially yours can heal a frozen heart
Even if it’s just a smile. And sometimes that’s all someone needs.