The bad thing about striving to live a life of kindness is that you realize when you fail. And you fail every day. Or maybe I should say, I fail every day.
The minute I keep the conversation trivial to avoid entering someone’s pain, the minute I cut the conversation short with an impatient answer, the minute I lower my eyes to the ground to avoid being asked for help, I feel my failure.
It wasn’t always like that. I used to be able to brush off my haughtiness like I would brush lint off a black T-shirt. Something has changed along the way. My blind spots are becoming more narrow and I’m able to see when my actions are not led by love.
The failures happen every day. Yet, each day I’m also spurred to continue striving toward kindness because it feels so good when I get it right. Like I’m powerful and whole and somehow healthier.
In his commencement address to the 2013 graduates of Syracuse University, writer and professor George Saunders philosophically diagnosed a sickness in each one of us. It’s called selfishness.
That’s it. When selfishness wins, I feel sick. Sick in my mind, sick in my soul, sometimes even sick to my stomach.
My friend recently reminded me of Saunders’ profound words when she sent me a quote she ran across from that same commencement speech.
Saunders said, “What I regret most in my life are failures of kindness. Those moments when another human being was there, in front of me, suffering, and I responded … sensibly. Reservedly. Mildly.”
Being sensibly kind won’t change your life. It won’t get you to the place where joy lives. You need to stretch, reach a little further and get uncomfortable. You need to be willing to get hurt or even risk hurting another as you step into their pain on the way to healing.
That happens when we make eye contact, refuse to stay superficial and step over the boundaries that society has set by being courageously kind.
It doesn’t happen overnight, but it does happen. I can look back over the past 40 years and pinpoint when I found true happiness. It was the same time I started writing about kindness and working diligently to be intentionally kind.
Selfishness is real and it threatens to overtake me daily, but on those days, one senseless, over-the-top act of kindness is all it takes to remind me that I’m still good, and so are most people. Kindness is like medicine. Take two a day and call me in the morning.
I’m not saying you can’t ever let the phone go to voicemail when you know it’s a needy neighbor or spend the extra five bucks in your wallet on yourself. I’m just suggesting that you make kindness your go-to plan most of the time.
Or as Saunders so fittingly put it, “Do all the other things, the ambitious things — travel, get rich, get famous, innovate, lead, fall in love, make and lose fortunes, swim naked in wild jungle rivers (after first having it tested for monkey poop) — but as you do, to the extent that you can, err in the direction of kindness.”
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.