I’ve found myself wondering lately if a little bit of kindness is enough kindness. If you give someone a little piece of you, but you still have much more to give, does that little piece still count as kindness? Let me explain.
I was walking through the cereal aisle at Walmart the other day when a woman stopped me. She had a cart half-filled with food and half-filled with a sleeping infant in a car seat. In broken English, she asked, “Can you help me? I’m very dizzy.”
I was alarmed and immediately started asking if she needed to sit down or perhaps needed medical attention, as I was ready to scream my head off for the nearest Walmart employee.
“No.” She shook her head. Then she handed me a stack of paper checks. They were food stamps. Food stamps have changed over the years, but in sort of a hazy way, I recognized them. I remember using them when I was a child.
The woman was clearly overwhelmed coordinating the writing on the checks with the food on the shelves. For instance, she had one check for a 32-ounce box of cereal. None of the boxes she could find were that size. Did that mean she could get two smaller boxes? And which boxes qualified?
I couldn’t help her answer the question about the size of the box, but I was able to steer her toward the bright orange stickers next to the prices which signified a type of cereal that would work with food stamps. I was shocked by how few there were.
She stopped then and looked at me. “Do you have kids?” she asked.
“Yes, I have three. OK, what else do you need?”
She handed me a paper check for beans. I walked her to another aisle and started doing a mental time check, wondering if I would be able to finish my own shopping and get home in time to pick up my kids from school.
After finding the woman four cans of beans, I figured I’d done my job and was ready to set her free. I handed the last check back to her. It was for $10 worth of produce. I pointed vaguely to another part of the store and said
“Produce means fruits and vegetables. You’ll find them over there.”
As I watched her walk away, I thought to myself, “How confusing to have to pick out fruits and veggies, weigh everything and then add up all the prices. I’m really grateful I don’t have to do that.”
Then I told the woman to wait up. I asked if she wanted help picking out the produce and with an exhale that was audible, she said “Yes. Please.”
When we finished weighing the oranges, bananas and mangos, she turned to thank me.
“What is your name?” she asked.
And here’s where the kindness got confusing. I told her my name and got so excited to tell her about “the-nonprofit-foundation-for-women’s-health-and-empowerment-that-I-am the-volunteer-executive-director-of-blah-blah-blah” as I pulled out my business card), that I completely forgot to ask her own name.
I didn’t ask how she was going to carry a sleeping infant and 10 bags of groceries home. I didn’t ask what country she was from or how long she’d been here or whether she missed her former home.
As I reflect on that experience, I realize I was so busy trying to do the right thing by solving this woman’s problems that I completely missed what she probably wanted the most from Walmart. She wanted a friend.
I’m telling you this story to urge you to think about something. The next time someone stops to ask you a question or to seek your help, I hope you’ll do what I didn’t do. I hope you’ll ask yourself what that person really needs from you. You may be surprised at how much more you get to give.
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 Phillips, The Forum, 101 5th St. N., Box 2020, Fargo, ND, 58107.
Nicole Phillips is a former television anchor for Fox News in Fargo, and currently the Executive Director of Diva Connection Foundation. She is the mother of three kids and the wife of Bison Men’s Head Basketball Coach Saul Phillips. Her columns run every Saturday.