In view of recent tragic events, I want to address the feeling of helplessness and anxiety that many people are feeling. It is easy to believe that the world is a scary place where travel, gathering in crowds, and letting our kids walk down the street are acts of courage. There is a wide disconnect in our culture. Rather than reveling in our sameness we admonish our differences. Finger pointing and blame are things adults take part in. Not just any adults, but the very people whom we elect to lead us! A dark cloud looms over us like an ominous harbinger waiting to drop the next tragedy. What can we do to help? First, just asking that question helps. Second, initiating small acts of kindness helps those around you which produces a ripple effect. Third, don’t worry about what you can’t control.
How have you helped today? These are words I have written on a magnetic dry erase board on my refrigerator. Neale Donald Walsch, the author of Conversations With God, asks the question, “How can I heal this space?” every time he walks into a room. Not that everyone is broken, but everyone is dealing with something to some degree. Patience and tolerance are key. Not everyone is privy to your knowledge base. Not everyone harbors your belief system. Not everyone has your values. But we are all deserving of respect. Walk into every room with no judgment or expectations (this takes practice). Then, be present. Listen fully without thinking about how you will reply. This one skill is so rare that nearly everyone will respond positively to someone who actually takes the time to listen to them. This is a perfect way to make someone feel important and help them have a better day. Hold a door for someone. Offer to help instead of walking by. Hold space for someone. Say thank you and excuse me with a warm smile, even for small things. Find a way to speak your piece while still validating others’ viewpoints. Learn to argue your point respectfully.
In a world so lacking empathy that kindness is met with suspicion, be the kind person. The saying, “Be nicer than you need to be because you never know what the other person is dealing with” applies here. The person who was rude to you in the grocery store may have recently suffered tragedy or just gotten bad news and is merely trying to get through her day. A smile and an offer to let her ahead of you in line might just ruin her belief that the world is against her. The person who cut you off in traffic may be rushing to an emergency. Wave and smile, my friend. What you can do in every situation is react with compassion. It’s not an easy task, but it is an important one. Enter each encounter without judgment or assumptions and keep an open mind. Helping others in this way helps you as well. How good do you feel when you help a stranger or are simply nice to someone? You don’t know the feeling? Go and try it out. Now. Today. Help an elderly person load groceries into her car. Let someone in front of you with a smile and a wave. Look for ways to be kind. This makes people feel good. When people feel good they help others which makes more people feel good. You start a wave that can be felt around the world. Imagine if everyone did this.
The third concept may be the most important. When you are feeling overwhelmed or upset by circumstances out of your control, take a step back and ask yourself, “What can I do?” The answer may be nothing. In which case you take care of yourself, be helpful to those around you, and let the powers that be iron out the problems of the world. Jack Canfield, the author of Chicken Soup for the Soul and The Success Principles, tells a story about the aftermath of an earthquake in LA. Roads were compromised, so traffic was a nightmare. Cars were backed up for miles and an hour-long commute was now at least 3 hours. In his book The Success Principles, Jack tells about a reporter that was going from car to stopped car along a backed up on ramp interviewing the drivers about their dilemma. The first driver was flaming mad. He had already been out there for two hours and there was no end in sight. He was going to be late for work! His boss would never understand. A barrage of blame, excuses, and why me’s came flooding out of the exasperated driver’s mouth along with a few more colorful selections of language. The reporter approached the next car and met a vastly different scene. This driver was calm, cool, and possibly even happy. He said that his boss would understand. He had his tunes, a Thermos of coffee, some snacks, and his mobile for letting others know where he was. He didn’t know how long he would be sitting in his car, but he was good. What was different between these two guys? If the situation determined their reaction both men would have been upset, but they weren’t. The second man decided to control what he could and not worry about the rest. I’m guessing he’s going to have a better day than the first guy.
Concentrate on the things you can control. You can’t control if a natural disaster hits your house, but you can be prepared with an emergency kit and a plan. You can’t control all of the germs on all of the surfaces in all of the places you go, but you can control whether you wash your hands, bolster your immune system with good nutrition and sleep, and give yourself downtime if you do get sick. All of these things are small steps in the right direction. It is a waste of time and energy to worry about what might happen when you can’t change it. Gravity has negative effects on us every day, but we don’t get angry about it or really even think about it! In fact, we have learned to use it to our advantage and amusement with sports and carnival rides. Many people right now are worried about gathering in groups, specifically about going to concerts. People right after 9-11 were worried about flying. I was worried about my next running event right after the Boston Marathon bombing. These are legitimate concerns, but also will suck the life out of you if you let them. Go to the event you have been looking forward to and enjoy yourself. Look for ways to help and spread good feeling while you’re there. Worry about what you can change and leave the rest to God, the universe, or whoever you think is in charge.
When we have compassion for another person, we gain our own inner peace. This theme is prevalent in Buddhist theory, but also in common adages such as “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” In Buddhism, students are encouraged to think of others as self. We are all the same. The person who sweeps the floor is just as important as the CEO. This concept brings compassion for all others into focus because if we are all the same, the suffering of others is our own. Meditating on loving-kindness, gratitude, or universal compassion is a useful daily activity. Learn how to do this on my meditation page. Take a few minutes every day to be thankful, let that gratitude fill you up, and spread it out like a balloon to those around you. Let that comfortably full feeling stay with you for the rest of the day.
Think of how helpful it is to “be kind to everyone you meet because you never know what they are going through.” This is easily done if you know someone is struggling, but it is also important on an average day in line at the grocery store. Especially if the person in need is rude to you. It is important to take the extra time making someone else’s day a little better. Let someone in front of you in line or hold a door open and smile while you do it. See how it makes you feel to show compassion for someone else. Remember to let go of things you have no control over. Being afraid does no one any good, least of all you. Be courageous and spread love everywhere you go!
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Books Mentioned in this Post
Walsch, Neale Donald. Conversations With God: An Uncommon Dialogue, Books 1 and 2. https://www.amazon.com/Conversations-God-Uncommon-Dialogue-Book/dp/0399142789/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1507554301&sr=8-1&keywords=conversations+with+god
Canfield, Jack. Chicken Soup for the Soul. https://www.amazon.com/Chicken-Soup-Soul-20th-Anniversary/dp/161159913X/ref=sr_1_5?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1507554598&sr=1-5&keywords=chicken+soup+for+the+soul+books
Canfield, Jack. The Success Principles: How to get from where you are to where you want to be. https://www.amazon.com/Success-Principles-TM-Anniversary-Where/dp/0062364286/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1507554693&sr=1-1&keywords=the+success+principles