Kindness is one of the rarest gifts we have to give: it doesn’t exist until we give it, and only in giving kindness does it exist. It even has a secret of it’s own: when you give it, you get some in return. Not if you’re looking for it, but on its own: from the space in which you give, you receive.
I recall walking down a street in London about 5 years ago. A woman was walking towards me in the opposite direction. She was middle aged, looked like someone’s mother or third grade teacher. She wouldn’t have stood out in a crowd. But she was smiling. A true, genuine smile. And she smiled at me. Not in way that was trying to say “greetings” or “I like you” or “I want something from you”. No, the smile just said, “the world is beautiful, let me share that beauty with you.”
I don’t really know what she was thinking, and she passed by quicker than I could snap my fingers and the moment was gone. But the impact was powerful — my mind had been racing with the things I needed to get done, my todo lists, the e-mails, all the junk of the day — and I wasn’t paying attention to the world around me. I was in my usual place of planning and worrying and letting my internal dialog fly wild. But when that smile hit me, it came with such kindness and sincerity that I couldn’t help but smile. It was a gift that asked nothing in return, and overwhelmed me with such intensity that my mind stopped. It was as if my eyes had opened up, and I realized how beautiful the sun was shining off the buildings, and how warm and delightful the buzz of the city was. That smile carried me through the day.
It made such an impact, that every time I would walk down that street, even if I was lost in my thoughts (and I usually was), I would come back to a place where I was observing the beautiful world around me. Just 5 blocks from my house, I walked down that street many times a week over a few years. In fact, here’s the exact spot: https://goo.gl/maps/VRrPGKtTvqE2
Now imagine that, 5 years later, I can still remember exactly where this lady smiled at me. That’s a powerful smile. Brings tears to my eyes just thinking about it. A gift which cost nothing to give, which asked nothing in return, has brought countless moments of awareness and joy into my life.
The current political climate has built more division and anger into our public discourse. This discourse reverberates, even if we think we’re avoiding it, and typically leaves people feeling more defensive. It also feeds skepticism and resentment, and a deep desire to defend “your way of life”.
But in defending, we naturally close ourselves to strangers, instead of inviting up and embracing that we’re all on this journey together. In this climate, sharing kindness is more critical than ever.
So, smile, be kind. You never know when a small gesture will reach out and touch someone deeply and transform their life.
And you have nothing to lose.
Also published on Medium.
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17 thoughts on “London & The Indescribable Value of Kindness”
Beautifully written and such an important message. The world would be a different place if we could all just be kind to each other.
It’s amazing how big of an impact a little unexpected kindness can have… my local DMV is so jovial and friendly it makes my day getting my license renewed. Such acts reverberate outwards and impact so many people. A good reminder that we can be that act of kindness!
Thanks so much!
It’s those seemingly random acts of kindness: a smile, a nod, letting someone go in front of you when standing in the grocery store line up. Little acts like this can change the whole direction of your day; maybe your life in a positive way. A smile is so easy to “pay forward.” Great post.
They definitely can change your day… and so easy to give 🙂 Thanks for reading!
it is pretty hard to smile at strangers these days, let alone make eye contact with them. not that it’s hard, per se. it’s just that oftentimes people are too busy looking down on their phones, or too scared to make the move for whatever reason.
aside from my own shyness, i also kind of have this fear (warranted or not) of making eye contact with random people especially in public. like, what if i happen to lock eyes with some drug addict and they’ll take it as an invitation to assault me or something? paranoid much.
but, yeah, i’ve also had moments where people smiled at me and i smiled back and it’s always a nice feeling to share such a positive vibe with somebody the universe put in your path at that exact place and time.
the way i see it, kindness is also like a leap of faith. you just have to give it out there and trust that the world will somehow make something good out of it.
There is definitely a flip side to this. I tried this with a few of my friends in London, just randomly smiling at strangers. It was working well until this strange guy started following me, thinking I had given him a different signal. Turned out okay, but afterwards I was more careful who I smiled at 🙂
Yes! Such a beautiful message. That is why I try to practice R.A.O.K (random acts of kindness) as often as I can. It can be life changing, literally. Thank you for sharing 🙂
A very similar thing happened to me. One lady smiled at me about a decade ago and I still remember that smile. I was feeling might tired at that moment, and in a course of last 12 hours I had had changed planes, buses and trains- and then as the bus stopped, I went out to buy something and this lady that worked at the shop at that bus stop smiled at me. One of those beautiful and genuine smile. A smile of kindness. A smile so powerful that 12 years later I still remember it.
This was a very touching read, thank you for sharing. You’re absolutely right. Kindness is immensely important and in this modern world we often forget it.
I think it’s so easy to get caught up in our lives, that those moments of connecting with someone, however brief, can really bring us back down to how simple and beautiful life can be. Thanks so much for reading!
Wauw, I love this post! I tend to throw smiles around as well 🙂
So true! Smile at each other and life is better 🙂
So true, being kind is sometimes overlooked as we get busy from day to day. We’re quite lucky down in NZ, where most people I meet are kind and strangers often give each other a smile. The other day, I was walking home with some flowers from work, and I got stopped and started chatting with a stranger about the flowers. It made my day 🙂