I was sitting in my basement a few weeks ago with tears streaming down my face. The room was dark except for the glow of the television. It was a Saturday night and I was four days out from my reconstructive surgery. Something was wrong. The pain was more intense than anything I had ever experienced in my life. No medication would touch it. I had no choice but to sit very still all night long and ring the bell at my side when I needed my husband to help me make the excruciating trip to the bathroom. I was waiting for Monday when the doctor would remove the plastic tube in my side that was sitting on a raw nerve.
Needing a distraction from late-night TV, I opened my computer to check emails. That’s when I found a letter from a 14-year-old girl in South Florida named Juliette Valle. She had stumbled across my most recent kindness column.
“Dear Nicole, I recently saw your article about #kindawesome and what you did with the KIND bars. I want to do something similar. I am the current Miss Broward County’s Outstanding Teen 2016. In June I will try for the Miss Florida Teen crown.
“My platform is ‘Kindness is Key’ which stems from my personal experience with bullying.
“It began on the first day of eighth grade when my friends since age 5 began to exclude me from everything, including editing me out of pictures of the first day of school and telling me there was no room at the lunch table. It grew to calling me on FaceTime to let me know there were parties I wasn’t invited to. Going to school each day was hard.
“By talking to a local specialist in teen bullying, I learned my authentic voice was one of kindness. I am not the ‘fight back’ type and so I began to pursue being kind every day and helping defend others from the bullying I would witness, mainly with younger students. It kept me so busy and made me so happy, that the year flew by. While I cannot say I never noticed my own continual bullying by exclusion, I was able to make many other friends through my ‘kindness experiment.’
“The next year, I joined the high school Kindness Club. It was started a few years before by an older girl from my dance studio. In this club we hold conferences to teach girls from area middle and high schools that kindness and inclusion trump bullying. At our first conference, the team leaders asked the club members to stand up and share our own personal experiences with bullying. When it was my turn, I described my eighth-grade year. Girls who went to grade school with me (but were not part of the bullies) were shocked. I could see they had no idea.
“One of the most striking things about that night was when a girl a year older than me stood up to relate her story. I had always admired her. She was the eighth-grade valedictorian and was very popular. She said one day I stopped her in high school to compliment her socks. Our socks are our only means of expression in my school, as we wear a specific uniform and shoes. She said she cried when her mother picked her up because someone had noticed her and said a kind word. I was stunned. I am still stunned as I write this, that a small compliment to this kind of superstar meant so much. Because of that story, I’m now obsessed with being kind and complimenting people sincerely, whether it is their earrings, their performance in dance class or a perfectly done winged eye.
“This month, I will return to my grade school to speak to the fourth-grade girls about kindness as an antidote to bullying. I feel like I have come full circle.
“My mom says she will buy me some KIND bars to hand out. I plan on attaching handwritten notes with the Aesop quote ‘No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.’ Just like you did.”
Thank you for bravely sharing your story, Juliette. Your sweet email came in the midst of my own personal darkness, and like kindness always does, it took the attention off of my own pain and reminded me to look for the light.
Please continue to share your stories of kindness with me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or send a letter to Kindness is Contagious c/o Nicole J. Phillips, The Forum, 101 5th St. N., Box 2020, Fargo, ND 58107.
Nicole J. Phillips is a former television anchor for Fox News in Fargo. She is a writer, speaker and mother of three kids. Nicole is married to Ohio University’s men’s head basketball coach Saul Phillips. Her column runs every Saturday. You can visit Nicole at nicolejphillips.com.