Today, the 25th March, is my beloved late grandmother’s birthday; she would have been 96. I always thought of Grandma as an ‘extraordinary ordinary’ human being. She didn’t change the world, but with her exceptional affinity for kindness she made her little corner of it a great place to be.
It also marks 3 years since New Zealand went into a highly restrictive pandemic lockdown. This means 3 years of disrupted work and home life, further strict lockdowns, vaccination programs and protests and now an uneasy new normal of living with Covid in the community. Add to that civil unrest, social movements, climate change, war and natural disasters and you have an unprecedented mix of events that has had a significant impact on our stress levels, emotional wellbeing and mental health.
The combination of my Grandma’s birthday and the anniversary of what has started 3 long years of difficulty and suffering for almost all of us has led to implore everyone: PLEASE BE KIND.
People are putting on a brave face but we don’t know what each of us is really going through. Affording a little grace, compassion or empathy costs us nothing but may make all the difference. Even a dim light can brighten someone’s day.
Here are three extraordinary ordinary kindness practices that anyone can do…
1) Extraordinary Ordinary Kindness Practice 1 – Listen
Grandma was an amazing listener. She would put aside whatever she was doing to attend carefully to whatever school playground issue or fight with my sisters would be top of mind for me that day. She didn’t try to solve my problems nor make them seem trifling.
I think active listening is a lost art. We have two ears and one mouth but we don’t prioritize them in that order! The good news is that with a little focus and practice we can become great listeners.
Here are some tips to help get you started:
- look the other person in the eye and act interested
- let the other person finish what they want to say, without interrupting or finishing their sentences
- ask them at least two follow up questions about what they are talking about without relating it back to yourself at all
- if you are not sure what to ask, say these three little words: “tell me more”
2) Extraordinary Ordinary Kindness Practice 2 – Give
I would often observe Grandma picking flowers from her garden or baking some scones to cheer up a neighbor or friend. She would lend out books, knit blankets and give away oranges or lemons from her bountiful fruit trees.
In this modern age, we have so much. It is not only a kindness practice but it can be a lot of fun to give or lend things to others that want and enjoy them. Following on from Grandma’s example, we are all too happy to give out persimmons, feijoas or tomatoes from our garden. I love lending out books I have adored so that other people can enjoy them too. The other day I put together a little gift for a friend going through a particularly rough time.
Even a kind word given out freely can make someone’s day. You can do this even when you are down and have nothing else to give. At a local bar the other night, an almost-stranger from the gym complimented me on my lipstick – something she doesn’t see me wearing as we sweat through gym classes together. I have subsequently heard that her house was severely impacted by the recent floods and her dog recently passed away. This woman is going through an exceptionally tough time and still took a few seconds out of her day to compliment me. Believe me, it was a bright spot in a weird and dark day.
People really do have an amazing capacity for kindness.
3) Extraordinary Ordinary Kindness Practice 3 – Volunteer
My grandmother would go out of her way to help those less fortunate and was active in various local charities and neighborhood endeavors. One of my earliest memories is visiting her at a community house that she helped set up.
Once you get better at these smaller kindness practices, you can consider giving in the form of the two heavy hitters—time and money, mostly in the form of volunteering and giving to charity. Volunteering is like a wonder drug that improves health, mood and relationships in those wonderful people who volunteer even a little.
If you have children, this should not stop your charitable ventures. Take your older kids to volunteer once a month, quarter or year. Get your young children to help you sort out their old toys to give to a charity. Encourage your children to put aside some of their pocket money to give to a favorite non-profit of their choice. Start sponsoring a child in another country and have your kids exchange letters so they can see there is a whole other world out there and hopefully feel fortunate for the life they have.
People are really feeling it right now. It is challenging out there. With prices sky-rocketing, it is hard on the wallet. Anxiety is rampant. Mental wellbeing is lower than I have ever seen it.
After the torrential downpours that caused severe flooding here in Auckland a couple of months ago, more than one person has told me they start crying or shaking or sweating whenever they hear heavy rain now.
So keep this in mind when you are going about your day: PLEASE BE KIND. Three extraordinary ordinary kindness practices anyone can do are listening, giving and volunteering. And if you do nothing else, smile. You never know when a beaming grin may make all the difference.
After all, kindness always starts with a smile.
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Here is a link to a Bite-Sized Sparkle YouTube episode I recorded on my late grandmother’s birthday asking everyone to be kind – boy do I get quite teary-eyed!