I believe in sock monkeys, chocolate chip cookies and chicken soup.
In short, I believe that the beauty of life is found in community with others. And, community begins with kindness. It requires celebration, shared work and little niceties. Instead, we spend our days seeking greater wealth and less contact with others. We live only with immediate family in ever larger homes, move about in private cars, find entertainment through computers and television and try to replace loss with anti-depressants and fast food.
When I find myself falling into these traps, I remember the importance of community in my own life. My mother died when my brother and I were 13 and 15 respectively. We lived alone for two years only through the grace and kindness of others. Our neighbors fed us, made sure we went to school, scolded us when we were bad and praised us when we were good. These tasks go way beyond leaving chocolate chip cookies, but if our neighbors hadn’t done that first, they wouldn’t have known they were needed after my mother’s death.
Do not get me wrong. I am not suggesting that we dump our country’s foster care system, but I am suggesting we build community that knows when it goes wrong and steps in. I believe in teaching every child in my neighborhood, regardless of sex and race, that he/she can choose any goal. But, I also believe they must learn they cannot get there alone, that it is better to give than to receive and that the void of isolation cannot be filled with money. Finally, I want children to live in a world where kindness is appreciated.
Fortunately, building community can begin with small steps and is often contagious. My two cardinal rules in doing so are that no event is too small to celebrate and there is no statute of limitations on thank yous.
Over history, people were forced to build community. First, they needed each other to provide adequate food, protection and appeasement to the Gods. Later, they were forced to work together to provide for industrialization which led to greater wealth and leisure. Now that this has been achieved, I believe there is still reason to celebrate or grieve with a neighbor. Bringing a sock monkey to a new child changes community dynamics, opens lines of communication and creates a system for others to act in-kind.
It is easy to justify a lack of appreciation to others with busy schedules and relaxed community expectations. Meanwhile, I feel empty when no one appreciates the things I do. When this happens, I think of someone who made a difference in my life – 10, 15 even 40 years ago. It means more that it was important enough to recognize over time. Acts of thankfulness, let others know they have value.
Don’t worry that your chicken soup isn’t good enough to win an award at the state fair. It really is the thought – and thoughtfulness – that counts. Each small kindness leads to another and eventually builds the community we all desire. If you need a place to start, try a sock monkey, chocolate chip cookies or chicken soup. This I believe.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.