I was in a grocery store checkout line recently and noticed a frantic-looking customer balancing a mountain of items on her person a few lanes down. I watched nonchalantly as she eyed the checkout belt longingly, counting down the minutes until she could move up in line and relieve her arms of their heavy burden.
I didn’t think much of it at first. I had been there before, of course. We’ve all walked into a store with the best of intentions to go cart-less and get one or two items, only to have our plans quickly diverted by a tempting sale or irresistible snack. The scene playing out in front of me happened daily, I’m sure; she would just have to wait her turn like everybody else.
Except she didn’t. The gentleman in front of her noticed her struggle and invited her to cut in front of him. She hesitated at first, but then seemed to remember her arms were giving out and moved up in line with gratitude. And then the next person invited her to cut, too, and the next, until she was finally able to set her items down on the belt. She looked back to thank them all and they smiled and waved it off like it was no big deal. But it was. In what I imagine was a split-second decision, the man who chose kindness inspired every person witnessing the occasion to follow suit. One simple gesture created a ripple effect throughout the community that I’d bet lasted far beyond that moment.
I think we too often mistake being kind for being taken advantage of. We worry that letting a person cut in line means we don’t stand up for ourselves, or we decide it’s our responsibility to “teach them a lesson.” The problem with this mindset is that it benefits nobody, including ourselves. The person struggling to hold their items continues to move forward with their day frantically, and we go home with a pompous attitude, letting someone else’s “lack of planning” put a damper on our plans.
What if instead we gave people the benefit of doubt and released ourselves from the grip of assumptions and perception? Perhaps letting somebody cut in line isn’t weak after all, but selfless and generous. Perhaps that frantic person isn’t scattered and in need of a lesson, but instead having to unexpectedly take care of a family member who is sick.
Shifting our thoughts in this way and choosing kindness in ordinary moments has the profound ability to improve the mood and health of all involved. Research shows that witnessing, participating in, and receiving acts of kindness can increase energy, happiness, pleasure, endorphins, and levels of oxytocin and serotonin. Likewise, it can decrease stress, anxiety, depression, and blood pressure. It really is worth our energy and effort.
And so, I urge us all to participate in an upcoming initiative that can help us begin choosing kindness in our lives. Wednesday, February 17, is Random Acts of Kindness Day. Will you join me in committing to at least one Random Act of Kindness, no matter how small or big, for the sake of others and ourselves?
CEHD Student Success Grad Professional Assistant, Jennifer, has gathered some ideas to get us started. Click the image below to view them.
is the Student Enrichment Coordinator for the College of Education and Human Development. When she’s not devising opportunities for CEHD students to Be Engaged, she enjoys cooking, crafting, and advocating for a proper RSVP.