“Avoid negativity, build positivity and carefully watch your mind.” The Buddha
Near the beginning of this summer an older fellow was riding his bike on the sidewalk coming toward me as I was walking my dog, Karma. He didn’t slow down. In fact, he started to yell to get out of the way. Karma is reactive and did not like this rushing vehicle or the yelling man.
This happened quickly and we barely had time to jump into the grass and she lunged and snarled as she barked.
He slowed down and stopped and started yelling at me about how horrible a dog I have.
“Make that dog shut up! You have a mean dog! You are a mean person!”
To say I was ticked off would be an understatement.
I wanted to shout back about how wrong he had been to be riding on the sidewalk at all and then yelling at us which triggered her natural response to be protective. (Karma is a bitch)
I felt the heat rising. But she was also still barking because he was yelling so I took a breath and started to walk away and I said, “You have a lovely day sir. It’s a beautiful day.”
I forced myself to say what I knew was right and I did the right action of walking away.
But, I know it was saccharin and a honey-coated baseball bat.
I didn’t really mean it. I had covered my anger with a pretend blanket of kindness and grumbled under my breath for a block or so until I let it go.
He actually followed us for half a block yelling about how I needed to put my dog down because she was a menace.
He turned a corner and she and I shook it off.
The rest of this summer this encounter has lingered with me.
How do I “build positivity” and generate true kindness?
I started to smile genuinely and intentionally as I was driving.
It started with noticing a few people in their cars in the morning, scowling or quick to anger if someone wasn’t going as fast as they would like or cut into their lane.
My initial thought was “wow, those people are carrying a lot of anger so early in the morning.”
Then I thought I had just contributed more negativity with the thought.
Thus began my summer experiment of smiling at random people in their cars.
First I had to get eye contact. And that was a lesson unto itself.
I… we… avert our eyes. It’s definitely the window into the soul and this metal carriage gives us a false sense of a cloak of invisibility. We… I … don’t want to be seen.
So I had to confront my own hesitance at getting eye contact and then to send forth a genuine smile.
Some folks averted their eyes. Others would instantly give a weak smile back. And zoom. We were moving on to another stop light, another turn, whisked into the traffic of life.
My smiles grew into shared head bopping to a song.
Some “good mornings” were shared between open windows and chatter about the weather.
Nowadays I’m finding compliments about a paint job, bumper sticker, hairdos and of course doggies, come easier and easier.
The overall truth revealed is that most will answer kindness with kindness when it is genuine, authentic and intentional.
I’ve extended this practice to chatting with panhandlers at a corner while waiting for a light. I used to feel guilty if I wasn’t giving them money so I’d avert my eyes, essentially closing the curtain to their existence. Now I have a little flirty conversation with a young man now and again near Frandor. And Jack and I chat often near the corner of Saginaw and Larch.
I’ve learned that rather than bracing for something bad I can lean in to expect and cultivate something good.
Recently I was returning to my car at a grocery store. I had put my items into the back and closed the hatch. I opened my driver’s side door – I’m parked between a truck and a car – and a man approached in the narrow space thrusting a piece of paper at me. He was an older white male and I did feel vulnerable.
“No thanks,” I said, not reaching to take it.
He waved it and said “I have something for you. Here. Here.”
At a glance I saw some random words “U.S.A.” and “Make America…”…
As I open my car door he starts yelling, “Why don’t you get an American car? Why don’t you support your own country? You can leave if you don’t support …”
I got in the driver’s seat and closed the door.
I start the car and open the window of my Nissan Versa.
And I say, “Thanks. I’m good. You have a very lovely evening. It’s such a nice night.”
And he surprised me.
He stopped heading toward the next person and turned.
“Thank you very much young lady. You have a nice evening too! Good night.”
I had honestly expected some nasty retort, some evidence or evil lurking, looking for a reason to lunge.
But his voice and demeanor had softened. It’s like he had been bracing for a fight from me too.
And we were just left with the cool breeze on a summer evening.
This morning as I walked Karma I saw the older gentleman on his bicycle cruising on the street this time.
As he approached I just waved and shouted, “Good morning!”
And he waved back as he zipped by, “Good morning young lady!”
My summer of kindness practice helped reveal my own intentions, which are not always pure. And intentions are a bitch because no one can see them except yourself. It requires a self honesty. But once I started to confront my truth I started practicing kindness and what’s hard and scary about it. And something beautiful happened.
I saw the good in people, not the bad. And I’m learning to believe the kindness is there, before expecting the awful.