I hung it in my entryway to greet guests and remind them of this simple truth when they walked through the door. I hung it there so my children would see it on the way out to the bus each morning, hoping they would carry it with them throughout their day.
That piece has remained in the same spot for over a decade. Why? Two words, kindness matters, so powerful, so true and yet, so easily forgotten.
I am that girl who smiles at everyone. I don't know you, but we've made eye contact, why not smile? Most times people smile back...of course, there are a lot of cranky people out there, too. I don't let that bother me, it is what it is. Perhaps there's a reason they didn't return the grin. Perhaps not. I don't smile or respond with bless you, when someone near me sneezes, for approval, I just do it. It's instinctual.
It's like saying please or thank you for your help when I am in the checkout lane or ordering at a restaurant. I have worked retail and been a waitress and sometimes people are not nice, just because you are on the other side of that register. I can't be that person. If I am having a bad day, that's not your fault (generally) and kindness matters.
I try to put myself in another person's shoes, whenever I am interacting~ it's how I was raised, in the classic do unto others style.
Although, I received my most memorable lesson on kindness outside the home.
When I was in the sixth grade, my dad passed away. He had cancer and was sick for several months. My home life was a mess. My two older sisters had been recently married and moved out, so our very full house, became very quiet in a very short period of time.
One day, about a week after my dad died, I was at school and just couldn't hold it together anymore. I cried. I just lost it. The teacher called me to her desk. She was a grandmotherly type, but also very stern.
I sort of remember thinking she was going to say something nice or give me a hug or at least a tissue. I was embarrassed, twelve is a tenuous time in the social life of a child. My family had just fallen apart, I was scared, lonely and waiting for some salvation, some comfort, something.
What I got, was yelled at.
She told me in no uncertain terms that school was not the place for crying. I needed to stop immediately and get back to work. Her comments were loud, pointed and cutting. It was a cruel interaction.
I am 46 years old and I remember that moment and the physical feeling of humiliation and sadness more than I remember anything else from my K-12 school days...and there were a lot of very good days, a lot, but for some reason that cold interaction sticks. I look back on that day and think to myself what a wasted opportunity for us both.
My world had just been turned upside down and school could've been the one place of stability and safety. Instead, it became a place I loathed to go. A simple kind gesture on her part could've made such a difference in the life of an unbelievably upset little girl. It really wouldn't have taken much either, she could have wordlessly held my hand or simply said, "I'm sorry," or "I know."
Years later, as an elementary school teacher myself, that memory loomed large and every single day, no matter whether I was teaching math, reprimanding poor behavior or reminding students to take their finger out of their nose and use a tissue, you can bet I was kind. It was an overriding rule in my classroom and I led students by example, because you know what, kindness matters.
So, not everyone smiles back, so what?
I smile and that's all that matters to me.