Last week I posed a question that had come across my desk from a Fargo mail carrier. He asked, “Where does citizenship end and kindness begin?”

His job often puts him in positions where he feels compelled to help. A lost cell phone, a wandering child or an emergency that requires a call to 911.

We are taught to be nice and neighborly and do the right thing. So is that kindness? Or does kindness require an extra step?

Here are some thoughts from readers sent in over the past week:

Teresa said she would like to be called a “Kind citizen.”

Colette mentioned that kindness gets stifled because we live in a society that insists on suing people when things go wrong. Instead of taking a chance, we keep to ourselves.

Barb said she thinks kindness and citizenship “run right into and through each other.”

Patt Jackson from Duluth, MN bravely took on the question with this email:

“A few summers ago, I bought a box of junk at an auction (such fun!) and after taking out the things I thought I’d use, I was on my way to deliver the rest to a thrift store. In the box was a pair of men’s slip-on leather shoes that looked barely worn, but I didn’t know anyone who could use them. I was stopped at a red light when an older man crossed the street in front of me, dressed shabbily and completely bare-footed. I pulled over and dug the shoes out of the box and offered them to him. They seemed to be a perfect fit.

I was happy and he seemed happy. Was it serendipity?

It made me start thinking about how simple it is to help someone, or brighten someone’s day, even just by saying hello. Now that I am retired, I have made it my mission to do something nice for a person at least once every day, whether it is in person or over the phone or by mail. (I’m a firm believer in handwritten ‘thank you’ notes.) It takes so little time and effort, and I always hope it will spur someone else on to do the same. Plus, it gives me that ‘helper’s high’ that you mentioned. Not a bad feeling!

Your question about citizenship and kindness is a tough one for me to answer. They seem very similar to me. Years ago a friend made a comment that stuck in my brain, and I try to live by it, though of course I sometimes fail. She wisely said, ‘We were not put here to make each other miserable.'”

Thanks Patt and everyone else who took the time to share your thoughts.

Maybe there is no clear-cut answer to the question. Maybe there is no definitive line between what we can do and what we should do. But I think if we keep our hearts soft and our eyes open, we will find that opportunities for both kindness and citizenship come frequently and reap big rewards for everyone involved.

Please continue to share your stories of kindness with me at 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 Friday. You can visit Nicole at