Friday, February 12, 2010

Our Friends In Need Live Right Next Door

I've written before about how much simple kindnesses can make the difference when you're struggling. Today, I'm sending out big waves of kindness energy to encourage everyone to reach out to someone who is hurting, in one way or another. I'm talking about in your own neighborhood, your group of Facebook friends, your work colleagues, your family. There's not a day that goes by where I'm not hearing about someone in my immediate community needs help, support or a kind word. And as we enter Valentine's Day, we express big gestures of love with flowers, jewelry, or my personal favorite, chocolate.

At my kids' school, like many schools, there's a firm policy and one we could all learn from. Every child in every class gives and gets each other Valentines. We're given a class list and while there might be grumbling about having to write out 26 names, when the day comes for the giving out and getting, no one is excluded or left to the chance of who is friends with who on any given day. Regardless of whether they are all friends, they all extend a bit of kindness to one another. The universal smiles on all the faces as they came out of school, as well as the pleasure in reading each card to me after school, is proof that they feel that little bit of kindness that adds up to one big and good feeling.

I've been touched over the last two weeks, as I've shared my personal story of facing my financial demons, with the acts of kindness, support and encouragement. These came in the form of a phone call, a warm cup of tea, an email or a job lead. We have so many and varied ways of reaching out to each other, there are no excuses for not spreading a little kindness in person and electronically.

I've also been disappointed by those close to me who have turned their eyes away from my situation, an act that hurts more than nasty comments anonymously posted on my blog. But I've had to extend kindness to those as well and hope that their disdain, or fear of my current set of circumstances, will enable them to learn more about their capacity to care, instead of ignore. Saying no is fine, but let the center of that no be filled with kindness.

We live in a time where we're faced with so much tragedy, close at home and far away. It's overwhelming. And while it is vital that we respond to the serious needs of those in far away places, it is just as important to focus on those really close at hand. I've known too many people, as I'm sure we all have, who have a strong sense of global kindness, but who don't bring that awareness to the people on their block, or even in their homes.

And I'd like to say a word to those who are in conflict with one another. Disagreements, no matter how large or small, are never an excuse for a lack of kindness. Especially if there are children involved. Take a deep adult breath and bring some kindness into the picture. You might get over the difficult patch, but your children will carry it forever and into their relationships, work and lives. Friendships go through all sorts of ups and downs, jobs end and marriages fall apart, but your ability to respond with kindness is what will prove you able to withstand these inevitable relational twists and turns.

We can't always fix the big picture. In fact, we rarely do. But we can ask ourselves if there is one part of that picture that we can help with. If a friend is unemployed, forward every job lead that comes your way. If a single parent is struggling to take care of her or his kids, send over a hot meal, offer to drop off some extra groceries or invite the kids out for a play date to the ice rink. If there's an older person living on your block, make a point to ask them if you can shovel the walk after a snow storm. If you've been able to help out a friend or family member in need and that need continues, which it often does, don't stop. Now is the time to see how you can give a little bit more, be it time, patience, friendship or a shoulder to cry on.

My dad set a high bar for me as a child. He helped those he could in whatever ways he was able, with very little expectation of what we now refer to as our personal return on investment or ROI. He did it because he knew what it was to be without, alone and hungry. He knew what it was like to not be without his family, some who he was able to reunite with and some he never saw again. My dad might have disagreements with people, even with his brothers, or other family members, but he was always willing to work it out and always, regardless of any ill feelings, to help when they were in need. He did the same with his employees and plenty of strangers. And what he knew, he passed on to me. Share your kindness as you are able to, in whatever way you are able to do it.

Make the choice everyday to be kind, to those you love, like and especially to those you don't, even if it is only in your mind. It all adds up.

"Wherever there is a human being there is an opportunity for kindness." -- Seneca 

Good Shabbos.

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