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On the Power of Kindness

I heard an NPR interview the other day that washed over me in a very powerful way. (You can listen to it here) Here’s what suddenly became very urgent after hearing this interview:

Kindness.

It sounds simple, but it isn’t always that easy. Some people are prickly. Some have even hurt us. Some make us uncomfortable and they’re awkward and hard to love. We still need to be kind to them — because more and more it’s becoming clear that our ability to treat others with compassion and simple kindness could have a dramatic impact.

In the radio clip, the host is interviewing a young man who nearly blew up his family and school. He was angry, and felt inadequate, and yes, he was also mentally ill. But neighbors called the police because he was making pressure bombs in his family’s shed. And he was caught, and confessed, and went to juvenile detention and received years of counseling. He’s a felon now, but he’s out, receives mental health services, earned a welding certification, and he’s living an honest life. He spoke with eloquence and maturity about his experiences.

And, he’s in touch with other “would-be mass murderers” — a pretty chilling club to be part of. One of the young men recently committed suicide. Another is doing pretty well, and he describes what foiled that young man’s plan:

He was on his way, in the school, to go shoot a classmate (and presumably whoever else in the school that got in his way). As he’s walking down the hallway, a girl looks at him, smiles, and says hi. 

And he turns around and goes home, doesn’t kill anybody. 

A SIMPLE ACT OF KINDNESS SAVED LIVES. I stopped cold in my tracks when I heard this story. I wonder, does that girl know her small action of showing basic kindness to a stranger had such an impact on that lonely, troubled boy?

How much can we push and isolate and ignore and ostracize the “freaks” and “weirdos” of the world? How simple is it to say “hello” every once in a while? Yes, they might make you uncomfortable with their social awkwardness and their sullenness — but also: how we treat the weakest among us says a whole lot more about us than it does about them. Everyone needs a friend. Maybe, instead of thinking “oh well, they’re not my type, they need a friend but they need to find the right kind of person for them,” we could just… be that friend? Even for a few minutes in a day?

It’s easy to be nice to people who are likable. It’s another story with other people — the ones that are “not my type.” Sure, everyone should “find their tribe” and all that feel-good stuff, but some people seem to get all the friends and all the tribes, haven’t you noticed?

We could all reach out to someone outside our circle.

People are hurting, and troubled, and isolated. And yes, better mental health services are crucial. (And obviously, it’s important to protect yourself around people who genuinely make you feel unsafe. Reach out to a school counselor, HR person, or the appropriate authority if that’s the case.) But also, we can afford a little extra kindness. We can smile at strangers. We can teach our children to reach out to the ones no one else wants to sit with.

It’s not my intention here to oversimplify the complex issues around school shootings. In fact, this post isn’t really about school shootings at all.

What I am saying is that we can learn something, right now.

This one piece of the puzzle: it is ours to solve. And we have the ability to contribute to that one piece of the solution — now we know, simple acts of kindness can stop a young man with murderous intentions in his tracks and send him home safe to his family. THAT is powerful, and it is power you and I hold in our own two hands.

Kindness. Pass it on.

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