A hasty word, spoken to a total stranger, because I woke up to find a flat tire on my car: how did that person know my day had started out that way? A glaring glance, because someone was blocking my path in the grocery store aisle, and I was in a hurry: how did that person know I had an appointment to get to? A snap at the service clerk, because appointments were running late, and I wasn’t feeling well: what control did the service clerk have over the delayed schedule?
An unkind retort to a snappy store clerk: perhaps her husband had just left her. An angry response to an annoying, pushy, persistent telephone sales caller: perhaps that was a second job that only paid commission, which that person didn’t want, but needed, to pay for chemotherapy for his child. An unkind verbal criticism at a co-worker, who lost her temper because she couldn’t get her computer to respond: perhaps she had just learned her breast biopsy was positive.
Those thoughtless responses can, unintentionally, be devastating. No one knows what’s going on in another person’s life. A job loss, an illness, an unexpected death, a car that broke down and there’s no money to pay for the repairs?
Yet, a smile at a total stranger, a “thank you” for a simple kindness, an offer to help, even when it wasn’t asked for, a compliment for something routine, but well done, can bring a much-needed ray of sunshine into that person’s day. It takes so little effort, but can completely change that person’s world.
We have so much power with our words and actions, to either devastate or brighten another person’s life. We can wield a razor-sharp sword, or carry a soft-spoken, soothing feather. Usually, we never even know how our words and actions have impacted the people we meet. But we’ve affected more people, in more ways, than we will ever be aware of.
So, the next time I feel like lashing out at someone who’s been rude to me, I’ll try to hold my tongue, try to remember that I don’t know what’s going on in that person’s life. And, the next time I have a chance to smile at a total stranger, or give a little helping hand, I’ll try to remember to do it: it might be the one needed kindness that person experiences that day. I just never know.
©Janet Mitchell, December, 2011