Now that I am neither fat nor skinny, neither too young to be listened to or too old to hold attention, I am teaching kindness. Not in class, not online. By having fun. In person.
I will step in front of a sliding door at a grocery store, and make a sweeping gesture from my left shoulder, toward the right, as if welcoming people from the store to step out into the world. “Please,” I’ll say, “After you!” The person in the grocery store will startle, then look at me warily, and walk in front of me. They may think I’m fooling them, waiting to smack them with a jellyfish, but I’m not. I’m offering them the space to walk in front of me and doing it with a smile.
On the light rail, younger men (and occasionally women) will offer me their seat. It would be rude if I did not let them feel good about their offer, and I’ll accept the seat, saying, “My feet and I thank you for your kindness.”
The language is slightly old-fashioned, and I always make eye contact and smile. Rarely does the other person not smile back.
One woman said, “Don’t accept that seat, he’s treating you like a baby.”
“He’s being kind and I’m grateful,” I said, and sat. The young-ish man winked at me. I winked back.
A senior citizen was ahead of me at the grocery store. He put a divider after his groceries. I caught his eye and said, “Thank you! Now I can put down my groceries instead of holding them.” He was surprised (he didn’t do it for my comfort, but I acted as if he did) and then said, “The world is so angry, who is going to be nice in the future?” Valid question. I smiled and said, “Well, both of us will, and that’s already two!”
He waited a beat and then said, “It’s up to us, isn’t it?” I nodded, still smiling. “It always is. If we don’t do it, who will give good example to the rest of the world?” He asked if I’d like a hug. It’s flu season. I wasn’t sure. But we were surrounded by people to give example to, so a quick hug was in order. It worked fine. He said, “You could have said nothing, but this is turning out to be a good day!” That was 10 days ago, and I feel fine.
Small kindnesses startle people. I would not have done this in my 30s. But now I can, and I’m taking advantage of it. People might hurry away, they may not react in the moment, but a small kindness can be a light on a dark day.
Of course the people getting off a metro or an elevator should be let out first, but making a small gesture that shows you know this and are letting them hurry off by choice is an uplifting second. It often surprises people, sometimes startles them. It’s a risk, but one I’m happy to take.
—Quinn McDonald teaches communication to businesses. And practices it in everyday life.