What does the world need right now, more than anything else? The best answer I come up with is some kind of collective, global, earth-shaking hug. But, since we still live in a pandemic, and that would probably be tough to organize anyway, I’ll settle for something just as good: small acts of kindness that can be practiced safely during these pandemic days.
It’s World Kindness Week and Friday November 13th is World Kindness Day. I think KINDNESS as a concept deserves more than a week, and certainly more than a day. It’s our secret superpower, but it should not be so secret. Kindness, considerateness, genuineness, friendliness, call it what you will but it matters.
I spoke with Claudia Vernon, Coastline College’s Mental Health Counselor and a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, about some real world tiny tasks that we can all do at this time to be a little kinder. And Claudia emphasized to me that kindness requires practice, patience, and commitment. “It’s like a muscle you have to exercise,” Claudia says. We need to get ourselves in practice with kindness; it’s not just a good idea. It’s essential. Start with these simple tasks during the pandemic.
I think this one should speak for itself. But it clearly doesn’t seem to in this highly polarized nation. Claudia acknowledged that this has become a political issue, but also pointed out that it doesn’t need to be. Kindness is about sacrifice to some degree, says Claudia; it’s knowing the importance, both for public health and for your own safety and that of your neighbors and friends, of wearing a mask and following through.
Claudia wanted to find small actions we can all undertake during the pandemic, and this is a perfect one. We all spend a lot of time in our cars, with or without COVID-19, and we’ve all had that moment at a stop sign or a yield sign or before making a right turn where we could just zoom forward. Instead give another car or pedestrian the chance. You will still get where you need to go, probably at the exact same time you would’ve gotten there anyway, and you’ll actually make yourself feel good to boot.
Counter-intuitive, I know. But Claudia pointed out self-care, or allowing others to care for us, is a form of kindness too. And here’s a bonus: by allowing someone to help you, you’re helping them. You give them the dopamine and oxytocin boost that we all need right now; kindness really is a two-way street.
We all order from Amazon from time to time, and probably more than that; a five-minute sign-up and you can donate to a participating charity of your choice every time you order, say, sachets of lavender to make your room nice. If you don’t feel like giving Jeff Bezos more of your money, a number of other programs exist with other companies to fill this charitable niche, for example, start-up Shopping Gives. As we enter the holiday season, and we all begin to sniff out the best Black Friday (which, let’s face it, is like an entire month long now) deals, this is a great way to practice kindness.
You look really nice today! I love your smile! Wow, those shoes are super cool! Need I say more? Money makes the world go round, but wouldn’t it be so much better if compliments were as frequently exchanged as dollars and cents? Claudia thinks so, and I do too.
Gratefulness is an underrated aspect of our lives; we all have things to be grateful for, and simply reminding ourselves of that fact sets us up to feel better overall. Claudia says making a written list will help actualize that feeling. It’s a way of something that seems nebulous far more concrete and real.
We all loathe the basic small talk of “how are you?” And yet we all do it. Claudia says it’s worthwhile to take the time to actually check-in on someone, really ask “How are you?” and try to get an honest answer. If you don’t have the energy for a long conversation, make someone a music playlist and send it to them. Go upbeat or downbeat; it doesn’t matter. What counts is also letting them know that they’re in your thoughts.
If you’ve been living with people throughout the pandemic, you’ve probably had multiple opportunities to hang out, maybe many multiple opportunities. But we also all have phones and laptops and TVs and all manner of technologies capable of starting conversations, but, more often than not, ending them. Put the phone away; put Tik Tok away. I promise it will still be there when you get back. Spend some time with people you love in your own house, or at least people you’ve come to tolerate. Maybe you’ll grow love them. Play a board game; play cards; do some baking together! Get yourselves talking!
We all need to laundry, right? And if your journey to clean clothes involves a trip to the Laundromat, why not do a favor for someone else and leave some supplies, or a few quarters, for the next person.
You know what the pandemic hasn’t stopped? Gossip. It may be one of our deepest impulses as human beings to discuss folks out of earshot or behind their back. I think the first gossip session went like this in the cave people era: “Did you see that new fur pelt she’s wearing?” “I know, right?” “I think that came from a different hunter’s spear, if you know what I mean.” When folks are bad-mouthing, or even just spreading rumors about someone else, be the one to say something positive. It could turn the tide of the entire conversation.
What we do with regard to others, how we treat each other and how we treat ourselves, matters. It just does. Being kind, understanding, and considerate should be a given, but we know, especially right now, that it isn’t. American society, really any successful society and culture, is built around a social contract: the idea that we mutually agree on certain rules and parameters and abide by them because it makes life better overall. Kindness falls into this category. It should be baked into the social contract, but as our willingness to be kind erodes, so too does the social contract itself.
So what can we do? We can practice, in small, effective steps, kindness, the way a musician practices piano or guitar or the way an athlete practices throwing a football or running a race. We are people, human beings deserving of innate, and equal, dignity; but that alone doesn’t seem to guarantee goodwill and positivity anymore, maybe ever. And so we must use our secret superpower and we must practice it. Kindness is critical; kindness, as it has always been, is key. Be safe, be kind.