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  • Writer's pictureJim Donaher

Hooked on Kindness

Every year we read inspiring, uplifting articles about how Christmas time reminds us of our better selves. We become more patient, more friendly, more helpful, more loving. The effect of this can last from hours to days to even weeks in some cases.

But like New Year's resolutions, the inspiring message of Christmas dissipates into the fog of hurry, urgency, worry, and hustle. Something so quiet, simple and intangible is easily washed away by the loud, the complex and the ever-so-tangible.

It's like the unmade sequel of Dickens 'A Christmas Carol' which has a working title, 'Enough of This Nonsense, Get Back to Work.' Cratchitt receives a written warning for tardiness, Scrooge outsources his customer service department and Tiny Tim's health insurance is canceled. Wah waah...

Nice. Things are back to normal.

Our challenge then is to create a 'new normal.' By reminding ourselves on New Years, on Super Bowl Sunday, on St. Patrick's Day, on Flag Day, on Arbor Day, on Victory Day (Rhode Island only), Labor Day, Columbus/Indigenous Peoples Day, Halloween, Veteran's and Thanksgiving. Reminding ourselves that whether we call it Christmas spirit or something less calendar-specific, we should be kind to one another. We should be helpful to one another. We should be more accepting of one another. We should be more loving to one another.

I have done no research to confirm this claim but in all of the years of observing this 'Christmas spirit' and its outward effects, I've never heard anyone complain about it.

I never heard anyone say, 'That old lady was so appreciative of me helping her carry her groceries. I hate that. All that smiling and Merry Christmas and so on. Drives me nuts.' Or, 'I let that guy go ahead of me in traffic and he smiled and waved. What a jerk!'

Quite the opposite. When people bring these things up it's with a mix of wonder and surprise and joy about how good it feels. And we don't bring it up that often, because to tell the story is to be seen as bragging on our own goodness. Seems like bad form.

Whether we blow our own horns or not, when we offer kindness, and especially when sincere appreciation is our reward, the endorphins are still released like hounds on a scent. We get a 'givers high.'

So why aren't we addicted to it? As Frank Cross says in 'Scrooged,'

So it's something we all admit that we enjoy, it's easy, it's cheap if not free, it's demonstrably addictive and yet on December 26 or shortly thereafter, we're back to what we were before.

Maybe we're not nasty and uncaring unless that's how we already were. But not attentive or even aware that there are others in need who we could help with the absolute minimum of effort. A smile, a kind word, a held door, a ride or some other little thing.

Maybe the appreciation is more important than I thought. Maybe we say 'thank you' more loudly and sincerely around Christmas than we do the rest of the year. Maybe that's the only time we say 'thank you' at all. Is that the cause of the sharp drop-off in kindness, post-Santa?

I am not a behavioral scientist or a wizard or a tree surgeon. I have no precision answers to the causes of this problem - and it is a problem. But it's either us givers or us receivers of kindness who are dropping the ball. SO:

  1. First, let's resolve to be kind. To DO more kindness. You don't have to start a flashmob for the kids in the cancer ward at the hospital. It need not be a big production. Hold a door, give up a spot in line, lift a senior citizen's groceries into their car. Two seconds, zero cost, life a tiny bit better for someone else.

  2. Second, let's resolve to appreciate one another. To THANK more. And more sincerely. This need not be a fall-to-the-ground-in-praise or some insistence on immediately paying back. A lot of times, you need help and you CAN'T pay it back. Not right away, at least. Just say thank you. Make eye contact. Smile. Easy, free and best of all, it may cause that person to do something nice AGAIN. It may also remind you to do something nice (see #1 above).

The world, as a whole, is a mess. There is division, mistrust, tribal hatred, anger, despair, cynicism and misery. The Bible says we live in a broken world, and who can argue? Examples of evil continue like water from a fire hose. Did you miss one? Don't worry, another will be along in a minute.

The causes are overwhelming. The odds are stacked against us. Best to lock the door and hide. There is nothing we can do...

If we think we have to solve everything, then it's true, we are doomed to fail. And who wants to fail?

But there are several billion of us. Sure, some are and always will be bent on the destruction and exploitation of others. But a lot of good people are out there too. Against these long odds, they're doing their part, one small act at a time. These people are heroes. We should emulate them. They are doing the Lord's work, loving their neighbor.

Can there be any doubt that if the good people in the world made it a habit to pepper the landscape with kindnesses of all shapes and sizes that the goal of having the Christmas miracle every day, as imagined by Frank Cross, would be achieved in no time at all?

God bless you. Merry Christmas and a Happy, Kinder New Year!



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