Try a Little Kindness and Discover Benefits

I saw a billboard with a message, the gist of which was this: “Life is too stressful. Let another driver in ahead of you.” Not rocket science, but it had an impact.

Don’t you remember the driver in a long line of traffic who let you go in front of him? Or the person who held the door for you when you had your hands full? What impact did the driver make who blew his horn because you were too slow when the light changed?

I am reminded of what Arianna Huffington said about kindness: Gratitude and service have the power to transform lives. To do a kindness or act of service takes the focus off yourself — it creates gratitude, and nothing is more attractive than a person with an attitude of gratitude. It fits that we teach people to try a little kindness and to understand where the other person is coming from BEFORE they try to make their own point of view understood.

It’s a kind of family joke that when I’m being irritable and short, someone asks me, “How’s that Gratitude List coming?” I refocus then. It’s the principle behind 12-step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous and Al-Anon. We think the receiver is the one who is blessed, but truth is, it is the giver who got outside himself and did something for someone else who benefits most.

I’ve seen a number of couples in my private practice. Early on they give me lists (sometimes long lists) of what is missing in the relationship and what they would like to be different. Not surprisingly, the person making the list thinks his or her partner could and should be the one to change most of the items on these lists. I tend to focus on what people have that works well — their strengths. It may take a while, but my intent it to change the couple’s focus to what is working — not what doesn’t work — in the relationship. A simple act of kindness is simply to say “Thank you” or “I’m sorry.” Those few words can be a benefit to a relationship.

Same comes up in working with parents. The child does something wrong and as parents we see it as our responsibility to point out how the child behaved inappropriately or irresponsibly. How many of us miss the chance to point out when the child did something well. We called it “catching them being good.” Some people say it builds sissies — in truth it builds self-directed behavior and not a tendency to think about pleasing others as you might think. Tell a parent that is doing a good job that they are doing a good job — they may rarely hear it. And lots of parents are trying hard to do a good job.

Look for a chance to be kind to someone you encounter. It doesn’t have to be dramatic. My friend left a generous tip for a waitress in a coffee shop who was obviously having a bad day. It was only $10, but my friend saw it as $10 well spent. “She will gain more from that than I will,” my friend said. And we watched the waitress who had been rude and short with her customers smile and tell them to have a good day. We don’t know the reason for her “bad day,” nor did we need to know — we just knew we made a part of her day more pleasant and maybe there wasn’t anyone else to do that for her.

Sandra Street is a licensed professional counselor in private practice in Wheeling, with more than 30 years of experience in the mental health field.

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