This I Believe

Sarah - Northfield, Minnesota
Entered on April 18, 2006
Age Group: 18 - 30
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I Believe in Simple Kindness

At a private liberal arts college, it’s easy to think you’ve got life figured out. Yet even after thirteen years of dedicated study there’s a lot you don’t know, and when it comes to other people, a lot you never will. You might think that the introverted boy who lives on the first floor, who doesn’t come to parties and sits at his computer from early afternoon until late into the night, has no friends because he doesn’t want them. You could live your whole life without ever knowing that his middle name is Thomas and his brother was killed in a car accident when he was twelve, and when the sun goes down he can name every constellation in the eastern sky. You might think that your irritatingly positive roommate, whose desk is tiled with post-it notes of inspirational quotes and helpful daily reminders to stick to life’s bright side, doesn’t party because she doesn’t like to have fun. You could walk past her on your way to the shower every morning without ever knowing how much she wept into her parents’ soggy shirtsleeves when her boyfriend raped her at age fifteen.

There is a lot you are willing to look past to meet your immediate needs. You get angry waiting for the shower stall and pay no regard to the girl who finally gets out and goes back to her room, waiting for the phone call that tells her they’ve found her mom. You only cared about what you were waiting for, and you had a right to. But you can’t possibly know it all. So why not be kind?

If you woke up one day and made it your single mission to be kind to every person you met, how could you go to war? How could you beat up your children? How could you watch footage of a massacre, feel sympathetic, but go on shopping for sweaters? I think it is important to rewind the clock and remember what our mothers taught us about simple kindness. It might mean sacrificing some pride or going out of your way to put someone before you, but everyone every day can decide to be nice to the next person they see. So why not?

It might sound simplified – but when did kindness really become more complex than knowing right from wrong? Knowing that pushing your sister down the stairs was bad and sharing your toys was good? Realizing that people liked to be greeted in the halls, whether or not you knew them; that it was better to be nice than mean, or worse yet, not to care at all? We live in a complicated world. But I often think it is too easy to excuse our actions (or inactions) because things just aren’t that simple. I believe it is wonderfully simple to say “Hi” to a stranger. I think a little reminder that we’re all in this together is just what a stranger could use.