Friday, June 26, 2009

Kill 'Em with Kindness

We all remember hearing and quoting The Golden Rule: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." It took a while for me to figure this one out. As a child, I thought it meant that I should hit my brother when he hit me. After all, isn't that the way he wanted to be treated? I was just doing him a favor. Right?

I grew up the first half of my life in some quintessential Texas towns. One was in Northeast Texas (Sherman) and the other two were in West Texas (Amarillo and Lubbock). I have various memories from each: living minutes away from my grandparents and great-grandparents in Amarillo; the huge pecan tree in our backyard in Sherman; the dust storms in Lubbock. One thing in common for all these towns is that each one was, and still is, chock full of nice people.

Living in Texas for 25 years (and one year in Colorado--another very nice place) and being raised by Texans (my brother and I are believed to be 7th generation Texans) made kindness a way of life like walking or eating. Of course, you greet people on the street with a "Good Morning," even though you don't know them. It is an involuntary act to make a casserole for a friend who has a family occurrence of birth, illness or death. Why not invite the new family on the block to a party...the more the merrier! Southern hospitality is unprecedented and a southern heart or table always has room for more.

After marrying my "Yankee" husband, I had a rough time moving to the Northeastern United States about fourteen years ago. Although I looked forward to the adventure of a new place, I was ignorant how much this area lacked the social skills of basic kindness. I suffered from major culture shock! Through the years in Rhode Island, I've dealt with rude people on the street, unbearable customer service, and ungrateful, self-absorbed neighbors. I've lived in four different residences in Rhode Island and haven't once had a neighbor welcome me or introduce themselves when we moved in. It took me two years to make a new friend. People here are very "tribal": they have their own circle and it is very difficult to break through. I would go walking on Blackstone Boulevard in Providence, greeting people along the way without receiving any more than a blank look as a response. I remember when we had to spend our first Thanksgiving here and my in laws were out of town. No one invited us to join them (I had friends at this point). No one offered us a pumpkin pie. My husband bought a chicken, I roasted it and we spent the day alone. As my mother said: "that would never happen in Texas." I remember countless Thanksgivings growing up with random neighbors, business associates and acquaintances who would join us because my parents believed that you can always make room for more

I was at the dentist this week getting a crown and he brought up Texas and how amazed he is when he goes there on business. People greet him in the hotel lobby. Business men ask him to their houses for dinner while others offer to take him to buy his own pair of cowboy boots during their time off from work. He then compared being there to our own "Little Rude Rhody"and without even knowing I write a blog, he said to me: "You know, Tracie, you should write an editorial about how easy it is to be nice. Texans know how to be nice." He isn't the first one to tell me this. I've had store clerks, policemen stopping me to give me a ticket, plumbers, electricians, contractors, doctors and receptionists tell me how much they appreciate how nice I was to them. "It is so refreshing not to get yelled at, "one of them told me. A few of them said, "Wow, you must not be from Rhode Island." "No, " I proudly respond, "I'm from Texas."

I believe I was blessed with caring parents who taught be how to act and to treat other people with true kindness. It is second nature for me to say "Please," "Thank You," and "Have a Nice Day." I try on a daily basis to instill this practice into my own children and I am so proud when they mirror my behaviour without being prompted. As I have written before, it takes the same amount of time to say something in a kind manner as it does to say something with malice. I like to think that each time I am nice to someone, that one act of kindness will help them be nice to another, and so on and so on and so on...Do I get mad? Sure. Do I get disappointed and frustrated when things don't go the way I planned them. Of course! On a day-in, day-out basis, I try to keep things into perspective: "It is what it is." I have a mental list of questions I run through quickly before responding while I take a nice deep yoga breath: "Is this life or death situation? In the great scheme of my life, how important is this really? Could they be having a bad day or did something happen that is making them cranky? Do I want to preserve this relationship?" What I've found is what my mother has always told me (yes, Mom, you were right): "You attract more bees with honey than with vinegar."

Here are some tips for living a kind life:

  1. BE GRATEFUL: Be grateful for what you have and what you are able to do. Living a life of wanting leaves you empty and angry. Tell your pool company: "Thank you so much for coming out to open the pool this week. I would really appreciate it if someone could come out to check as soon as possible. The pool is green and I am having a party on Friday."

  2. BE APPRECIATIVE: Appreciate what others can do for you rather than focusing on what they can't. Don't have the attitude that you deserve something because you are smart, rich, on time, or a certain ethnic race. Living a life of deserving and self righteousness will leave you disappointed and frustrated. Tell the receptionist: "I know you must be really busy, but could I please ask you a question? I have to be out of here in 30 minutes, should I reschedule or will the doctor be able to see me soon?"

  3. BE COURTEOUS: Make it a practice to use your Ps and Qs. Say "thank you" to anyone who helps you do anything and assists you in any way: the clerk at the grocery store; the teller at the bank; the waitress at lunch. And, please, whatever you do, please say please. "Please" is a sweet little cushion even if you are asking for the impossible.

  4. BE FRIENDLY: Smile and say "Hi", "Good-bye," and "Have a good day" every day to everyone you meet. It is simple. It is fast. It costs you nothing but will pay you back in boundless benevolence.

  5. BE SYMPATHETIC: Got a grouchy check out clerk? Instead of snapping back, know that he or she must have something going on. You never know what happens at home or in the hearts of our fellow human beings. Either carry on as quickly as you can without any provocation (don't rock the boat) or make an effort to heal a wound: "Wow, you must be having a bad day. I sure hope it gets better."

  6. BE CONSIDERATE: Do small things as often as you can to breed kindness in your heart. Try to "touch, move and inspire" someone on a daily, or at least weekly, basis. Open the door for moms struggling with a stroller. Wait patiently for the elderly person crossing the street. Move over at the bar so a couple can sit together. Let the person pass on the highway who has her blinker on instead of giving her the finger and squeezing her out (yes, this happens). Take brownies to the new neighbors.

There are mean people all over the world, even in Texas. Rhode Island is just where I live now and will probably live for a long time. I tried for years to get my husband to move but we haven't been able to because of his work situation. In the last ten years, I have made some amazing friends. Most of them are "transplants" just like me but there are some native Rhode Islanders with heart and soul...(I know a few of them). I saw a message outside a church after I got my dental crown that day: "Kindness is not a bad religion. No matter what name you use for God."

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