A man knocked on my door during the last snowstorm. It was 8 o’clock at night and I was home alone with the kids. We were all snuggled on the couch in our jammies waiting for bedtime when I heard the dog begin to bark ferociously, followed by the sound of knocking.
As I looked out the front-door window, I spied a big man who was definitely a stranger. Instead of opening the door, I yelled, “Can I help you?” He yelled back from the front step, “Need your driveway plowed?”
I gave him a resolute, “No” and he disappeared back into his truck.
He may have just been a guy out looking to make an extra buck off the storm, but I don’t know that. All I know is that for the rest of the night, my momma-bear instincts were on high alert and I slept with one eye open.
Sometimes it works that way in the daylight, too, with kindness. My efforts to make someone’s day are met with suspicion, or I shut a well-meaning outsider down before they have a chance to help me because I’m afraid of getting hurt.
In the case of the nighttime snowstorm, I know I did the right thing by refusing to open the door to a stranger. But what about in safer, more public situations?
I’ve been exchanging emails with an amazing artist/musician whose latest music video, “Man on Wire,” demonstrates how afraid we are sometimes to interact with others. His name is Doug Andrews and here’s what he had to say about the day he shot the video:
“For the video, I dressed up as a street performer and initially intended on wandering the streets of Hamburg, Germany, playing for anyone who would listen. I had no idea where it would lead. Most people ended up ignoring me and kept their distance, unable to see past my appearance. I felt invisible, like a ghost.
“Spontaneously, I bought some flowers and passed them out to strangers. I could see the wheels turning in each person’s mind as they tried to figure out if I expected something from them in return. The moment they realized that I was simply giving them something without any expectation of getting something in return, they transformed and I could just feel their appreciation.
“This simple act of kindness gave me great insight into everyday life. We all want to be appreciated and noticed. It’s so easy to reach out and connect with one another, but we rarely do it. It took dressing up in a clown costume to realize that we are all wearing costumes every day, longing for someone to see through them and connect with the people we truly are.
“There was a particular moment that day that stood out for me. You can see it in the video with the last flower I handed to a homeless man. The moment I handed him the flower and we made eye contact, I saw a light in his eyes shining brightly. I thought, ‘Even if nothing else happens with this video, that one moment was worth everything.’ Just a moment to brighten this man’s day which he probably doesn’t experience often.
“It’s actually very easy to do good in the world. You don’t have to start an orphanage or dedicate your life and career to some enormous worthy cause (although that is also great!). A smile, opening a door, or anonymously paying for someone’s cup of coffee can make an enormous difference in someone’s day and start a chain reaction. One simple act of random kindness can change a life and, in effect, change the world.”
Thanks for sharing your behind-the-scenes thoughts with us, Doug, and encouraging us to let down our guards enough to let in some kindness.
Friends, I hope you’ll take the time to check out the music video on top of this story. It’s really powerful.
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.