GratiTuesday: Choosing kindness

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A few days ago, I was driving my car to a familiar destination. Because I had driven the route many, many times, my mind was on autopilot. My husband and I were chatting about this and that and I was thinking about that and this. In other words, I wasn’t paying attention.

All of a sudden, I realized that I had taken the wrong route. I was generally headed the right direction, but the street I was on wouldn’t get me to where I wanted to go. I needed to make a right turn, then a left to get back on track. No problem, except there was a line of cars in the right-hand turn lane and, in order to move into it, I needed someone to let me in.

Now, I have to admit that I usually get irritated with people in that situation: those jerks who don’t think they should have to wait their turn like the rest of us so they drive alongside the line of cars, then try to sneak in towards the front. When I see this happening, I’ll be damned if I will let them into the line and I get perturbed when someone rewards their jerky behavior by allowing them to merge.

Except, that wasn’t what had happened. I was just trying to recover from a momentary brain lapse and get back on the correct route. The road I was on wasn’t very busy (which, had I been paying adequate attention, should have been a clue that I was on the wrong street) and there wasn’t anyone in my rearview mirror so I slowed down and switched my signal on so I could move over into the turn lane.

Then, two things happened: a driver come up quickly behind me, honked his horn in irritation, and swerved around me so he could continue going straight, and another driver in the right turn line made room for me so I could merge in ahead of her. One chose to vent his frustrations at me by honking, whereas the other chose to be sympathetic and let me in ahead of her. One probably felt a moment of anger towards me for being in his way and causing him a two second delay. The other reacted with compassion and a smile.

I was a bonehead and the first driver was completely justified for honking at me. The second driver was by no means obligated to let me in. But, she chose to help me out; she chose kindness.

That little bitty, almost inconsequential interaction got me to thinking about the choices I make every day. Do I act with irritation, or do I act with understanding? Do I notice and respond when someone could use a hand, or do I remain unaware and go about my business? Do I attempt to ease someone’s path, or do I put up barriers? Do I choose indifference or do I choose caring?

I hope I make the right choice more often than not.

I am grateful for acts of kindness – both big and small, and whether it is directed at me or not. Kindness makes me hopeful and optimistic. It’s so easy to focus on the negative and painful but it’s important to remember that if I want more kindness in the world, I need to put it there.

36 thoughts on “GratiTuesday: Choosing kindness”

  1. Good morning, Janis
    So very true. What a wonderful time in our lives–that we have the opportunity to think and reflect, and share those thoughts.

  2. This reminded me of something that happened many years ago. I was in a car with a good friend (who was driving). We were in northern New Jersey with it’s complex system of highways. The car in front was straddling two lanes — the entrance lane to a major highway and the “go straight” lane. This was before GPS systems. My friend was going bonkers and yelling when I said, “Look at the out of state license plate. That poor person is lost and doesn’t know which road to take.” It put a different perspective on it and my friend calmed down. Too often we jump to conclusions. Sometimes they are right but sometimes they are not.

    1. God knows I’ve driven like an idiot when I’ve been in an unfamiliar place and I’ve been grateful when someone has cut me some slack. There is nothing worse than feeling unsure and nervous anyway and having someone make things worse by being impatient or rude. Even with GPS, unfamiliar roads can be confusing. When I win the lottery (I guess this would mean that I need to start buying tickets), I will hire a full-time driver.

  3. I hate people obviously pushing in too, but I often let people in or out otherwise. My husband thinks I’m daft, but I think I’m paying it forward – someday I’ll need a favour and I hope by spreading good manners I might actually get it!

    1. You are so right about paying it forward. Often one little act of kindness can multiply many times. I know when someone is nice to me (like letting me merge), I am more likely to show that same kindness to others. And so on, and so on…

  4. I totally agree. Small acts of kindness are very important, and when we are in a position to do one, we should take it. I sometimes ride with people who react with road rage when another driver doesn’t drive at the speed my drivers want to go, and it is not only embarrassing, but also dangerous. Thanks for your story. It’s a good reminder.

    1. You are right about the danger of letting anger get a hold of us, especially when we are piloting a very heavy “weapon” like a car. I really think that those who hold the anger are the ones who suffer the most. Best to just let it go. Being kind benefits both the giver and the receiver… win-win!

  5. We’ve all had those brain lapses, I think. At times, I’ve been grateful for some kind drivers and I’ve been enraged by what I perceived as thoughtless drivers. I love your last line, Janis. That says it all!

  6. The most important line was at the very end … ” if I want more kindness in the world, I need to put it there”. I think we all need to be reminded of that on occasion. We expect it from others, yet rarely question whether we are as kind as we could or should be.

  7. I had to warn my wife several times prior to moving to our little hamlet here in Florida that it is a town populated mainly by senior citizens. Patience was going to be needed while in lines at the supermarket, bank, etc., and especially behind the wheel on the city streets. Today we were behind an elderly woman at the supermarket who asked that an expensive item be deducted after it had already been rung up by the cashier. Then, after she paid for everything else, she asked that the discarded item be rung up again. I could hear my wife sigh softly. Later in the parking lot, I explained that Social Security checks are deposited in two days, and that I assume the woman wasn’t sure if she had enough money. We both agreed kindness, patience, and understanding are often in short supply. Great post, Janis.

    1. I became a much more patient person after taking care of both my mother and father as they aged. As I watch someone in a store like the woman in the line in front of you, I realize that it could be (would be) me some day. Deep breaths and silent mantras help. That is a very good point that social security could have played a role. We seldom know what challenges other people are facing.

  8. Don’t know how I missed this post…great practical example of how ‘things aren’t always as they seem.’ It’s both humbling and helpful when kindness is extended in the midst of these types of situations.

    1. You are so right! I know that when I’ve acted less than kind, it bothers me and I feel out-of-sorts with myself (to say nothing about what the other person might have felt). Acts of kindness not only distribute happiness but also feelings of peacefulness.

  9. Really loved this, Janis, and I am right there with you on driving irritation! Yes, we make mistakes, and what does it hurt to let a flustered driver in ahead of you? Good lessons for all of us in just being kind 🙂

    1. It is so easy to get irritated when you are driving around in a big metal box. God knows there are jerky drivers out there, but most of us are just trying to get from here to there. True in other areas of life too – patience and understanding go a long ways.

  10. It’s good you were able to appreciate the act of kindness in the moment. I’ve gotten much better at a Zen approach to driving over the years, particularly after driving the 110 freeway in LA to and from work every day for 21 years. I came to respect that bad freeway karma which leads to eternal suffering!

    1. Zen driving is what I call it too. I would find myself getting all worked up over some other driver’s action and the anger would follow me for awhile. Who did that ultimately hurt? On the flipside, when something nice happens (when driving or not), good feelings follow me. My feelings, my choice.

  11. I love this post, Janis, and this topic! Very efficiently, and eloquently, you got right to the heart of the matter. Reminds me of one of my favorite quotes from Martin Korfeld: “If we ALL DO one random act of kindness daily, we just might see the world in a different direction.”
    Donna
    http://www.retirementreflections.com

    1. One simple act of kindness can multiply into many kindnesses. The key, I think, is to train yourself to live in the moment and become aware of opportunities to help out, lift up, make peace, etc. Not always easy, but something to strive for.

  12. I have been that person who gets so annoyed at the guy who races along side to squeeze in further up ahead! It pretty much always pisses me off! Thanks for reminding me to keep a good heart. Makes life so much sweeter!

    1. I’m pretty sure I’ll still get annoyed at those who purposely try to get ahead and squeeze in. Kindness in the face of rudeness requires more saintliness that I probably have in me. On the other hand, I’m reminded of the quote, “Those who are the hardest to love are the ones who need it most” and think maybe I should try harder.

  13. First – quick comment on the image – you know I love it.
    Second – you actually put things in a really good perspective. There is a lot of hatred, anger and ‘me-first’ in the world right now. I certainly have been behaving a bit like the honking driver as of late (perhaps left over stress from what has been a tough few months). This is a good reminder that compassion, acceptance, and inclusion start with me.

    1. The picture is from my trip to the Florida Keys (then to Cuba) last year. Thank you for reading beyond the automobile incident I wrote about; slowing down, looking for ways to help out, being mindfull go way beyond how we act while driving. Stress can make us act like a honking car 🙂 but, often, we end up just feeling more stressful.

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