Manitoba·Opinion

It doesn't cost more to be kind: reaching out to make positive change

The deaths in Orlando weigh heavily on my mind. Like many, I struggle with what to say or how to find a way to help.
Sometimes the ways to help are frustrating, and some might find them demeaning. But small acts can have big impact, argues Seiff. (Rafal Olechowski/Shutterstock)

The deaths in Orlando weigh heavily on my mind. Like many, I struggle with what to say or how to find a way to help.

Making renewed efforts to act with love and kindness might be a way commemorate this huge loss of human potential.

Recently, I received an email update from a relative. It included every aspect of her apartment renovation, her opportunities to eat out, go to shows and movies, and read voraciously. I felt frustrated and removed from the whole way of life she described.

I read mostly by listening to audio books while I accomplish the chores that most families with young kids face — meals to cook, loads of laundry, toys to tidy. Grinding through the minutiae, I try to think about something meaningful, too.

A few weeks ago, I handed off bedtime responsibilities to my partner so I could attend a lecture. It was a rare night out. I came away stimulated and excited, because the visiting scholar offered his audience something deep. The most profound part was the way he related everyday, commonplace bits of ritual and ideas to things with greater meaning.

He recalled our first-world struggles — with tedium at work, or holding the hand of a sick child — and through his enthusiasm, allowed us to see how we aren't alone. Our difficult moments connect us to others in our community.

In the middle of the event, an older couple spilled a forgotten cup of ice-cold coffee. I sprang into action as only a sleep-deprived mom can, but I couldn't keep the coffee from spilling. Someone else grabbed napkins, but there was just too much liquid. It spilled on the floor, on the couple, and all over the table. I scrabbled in my purse for tissues.

I felt a tap on my shoulder. An acquaintance found big, absorbent towels from the institutional kitchen. While the lecturer continued, I got down on my knees, mopping up coffee from the floor and the table. Silently, that acquaintance behind me tapped me on the shoulder again. She held out her hands. I passed the sodden towels for her to take away. Not a word had been spoken between us.

'A lessening of self'

I'm not the only parent who gets annoyed over cleaning up spills and gets tired of dealing with residual finger paint messes. I sometimes feel resentful about how many hours I spend on the necessary but mindless tasks that all parents face.

Habit is a strong thing. We need to remember to break our routines, look up, smile and step up to help each other.- Joanne Seiff

In that silent exchange at a lecture, I was reminded of something.

A phrase from my childhood in the U.S. sprang to mind. Usually imparted with a strong Southern accent, I could hear it echo. "It doesn't cost more to be kind." More likely, it was said to me with a finger wag: "Honey, you know it don't cost more to be kind. Now why don't you step up and fix that mess."

It requires a lessening of self, a lowering and an ability to see beyond your own needs to step up and help others.

Sometimes the ways to help are frustrating … and some might find them demeaning. We get coffee on our knees while kneeling there under the table. Still, the most valuable human interactions can be when our self-interest becomes secondary to how we can make changes to help others. We can make big change in the world through small things done one step at a time.

I went back to that long email about apartment renovation. When I read it again, I saw something different. It sounded lonely. This detailed account focused on self-interest. I didn't once read, "So how are you, friend? How can we connect and take care of one another?  

The note's details seemed so alien. I thought of my recent late night — not at a Broadway show, but rather cleaning up after a preschooler with stomach flu. When I read between the lines, I knew I needed to write back. Why?

Stunned into being best selves

Habit is a strong thing. We need to remember to break our routines, look up, smile and step up to help each other. It's in that reminder to care, to open a door for a stranger, that we can help others. It's the moment we linger at a stop sign so a mom with a stroller can get through the intersection. These details can make everybody's day better and more meaningful.

Tragedies like the mass shooting at the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando stun some people into being their best selves. (Jim Young/Reuters)

When we hear of horrible violence and disaster, some people are stunned into being their best selves, donating their time, money, and even their blood to help one other. Yet it's in the mundane moments that we keep that power — for good — alive.  

People need to feel cared for and know someone else is thinking of them. The smiles or thanks we get in return end up being more than enough. After that sick kid gets cleaned up, his bedding and pajamas changed for the third time, he looks up, weak, and says, "Thank you, Mommy. I love you." That makes all the scud work worth it.

Once we feel valued, we may have the ability make that effort ourselves, to reach out, step up, ask after and value others.

Why? 'Cause honey, it don't cost no more to be kind.      


Joanne Seiff is the author of two books. She writes, designs and teaches in Winnipeg.

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