By Denae Jones –
My first grader told me the other day that she was embarrassed at school because she needed help tying her shoes. Again. Only this time, the help came from another student instead of the teacher. They knew how and she didn’t. She had learned to tie in pre-school, but then wore shoes that buckled, pulled on, or zipped for so long that the skill of tying had been forgotten. I had been telling her that I’d teach her to tie her shoes for months and just never got around to it. She was determined, and we had time on our hands, so she slipped off her shoe and we went through the motions. Within just a few tries, she had it down. All she needed was a little practice. Finally, she looked up at me and said, “I’ve got it now. I don’t need you to do it anymore.”
I wasn’t sure how I felt about this. My youngest child needed me to tie her shoes this morning, and by this evening she didn’t need me to do it anymore. Maybe she never will again. It felt like a little piece of her childhood slipped away right in front of me. But I did know that I was thankful for the student at school who showed kindness to my little girl. These days, that is not always the case.
In fact, the next day I was talking with a friend about how kids can be so mean to each other. Sometimes mine have been on the giving end, and sometimes they have been on the receiving end, but either way, it’s hurtful. We were trying to think of ways to help the kids be more aware of practicing kindness. It made me think that, just like learning to tie a shoe, kindness does indeed have to be practiced. Just like filling our bellies with food, if we don’t do it on a regular basis, it wears off.
The thing is, we are ‘practicing’ something all the time, whether we are aware of it or not. Good things and bad things have an equal opportunity to become habit through sheer repetition. The girls at my work laugh because I can totally block out a conversation happening right next to me, because I’ve ‘practiced’ ignoring the extra noise the kids make at home.
My kids still mention a man they knew when they were much younger, who continually made snarky remarks to everyone. All these year later, they remember him because he was always grumpy and made them feel like they were constantly doing something wrong. It’s what he practiced. I wondered if it made the people around him grumpy too?
If we give it some real thought, we probably practice some things on a regular basis that could use a tune-up before they become a bad habit. Maybe it’s raising our voice, or getting the last word, or thinking we are never wrong. Maybe it’s indifference, or sarcasm, or bad humor. Maybe it’s criticism or cynicism or gossip. All of those things take time and repetition.
What would it look like if we replaced those habits with things like sympathy, or concern, or praise? What if we stopped ourselves before gossip came out of our mouths and said something positive instead? What if, when someone raised their voice to us, we lowered ours? What if we saved the sarcastic remarks for times when they would be funny and not hurtful? What if we practiced kindness on a regular basis? Eventually, our old habits would be replaced with behaviors that are less abrasive and more inviting. Eventually, our schools would be friendlier, our workplaces would be more productive, and our piece of the world would be a little better each day.
We passed through a town yesterday that had the same banner across the street as you enter and leave town. We see them a lot around here when some special event is being advertised. But this one had just one word. Big, bold letters that simply read, ‘KINDNESS.’ How nice is that? It makes you feel like you are entering a town where, if you spend any amount of time, you will be filled with kindness. And, you can take some with you when you go.
Isn’t that how it should be when people spend time with us? Shouldn’t they feel like they have just been filled with kindness? And they can take it with them when they go. Will children remember us years from now for being habitually kind or habitually grumpy? Let’s choose kindness. Maybe our example could be their new, good habit. Maybe, just like my little one tying her shoes, they will look to us and say, “I’ve got it now.”