Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.
- Leo Buscaglia

Monday, January 2, 2012

A Kindness Shift

     Today's intentional act of kindness was similar to yesterday's in that it represented more of a shift in my perspective than it did a specific, noticeable act.  Already I'm seeing that acts of kindness take so many different forms and undoubtedly this year will expose me to a wide range of opportunities and types of activities.  All of them have value, though each impacts me and other people in very different ways.
     My day began at the local gym where I belong, LA Fitness.  As you might imagine, with today being a national holiday as well as the beginning of a new year, the gym was packed with people determined to start their newly made resolutions about getting back in shape.  Nearly every machine was in use, the lockerroom was jammed, and it was difficult to even find a parking spot.  This was all perfect for my plan.
     To explain this, I have to first admit to some bad thought habits.  The first is that when I see strangers, particularly when they're not like me, I almost always think negatively of them.  To be honest, I actually feel a bit ashamed to write that, as it seems so unfair and even counterproductive; but I do it nonetheless.  I form these negative judgments based on what they wear, whether they have tattoos, how they carry themselves and a host of other superficial criteria.  One of the results of this inclination to negatively judge is that I tend to stay in my own little world with minimal interaction with these people, other than the pefunctory nods and grunted greetings.
     One of my other bad thought habits is to see other people running or working out as competition.  For example, I'll see someone running and think negatively of them because they're slow or heavy or out-of-shape, as if this somehow makes me feel better or more like a "real" athlete.  Obviously this is silly, emotionally immature, and not exactly life-affirming; but I do it.
     Well today I decided it was time to change all of that.  I determined that I would look at every stranger with kind and positive thoughts.  I would make real eye contact, smile, and greet them positively.  Where the opportunity existed, I would get out of my "bubble" and initiate conversation.  Instead of seeing the newbies on the treadmills and elliptical machines as fake athletes, crowding my space and destined to give up their New Year's resolutions in a few weeks, I saw how wonderful it was that so many people were doing something healthy like working out, regardless of how long it lasted.  Any exercise is certainly better than no exercise. 
     What surprised me the most was actually how easy this was.  In fact, as I was driving home I saw a slow jogger plodding his way through town and I was quickly able to focus on how great it is to see people out running - at whatever pace they're able to go.  I'm not really sure why this was such an easy shift.  Perhaps the world is intended to be a more positive place and when we put ourselves in that zone it's like flowing with the current rather than being against it?
     Here's the most interesting recognition I had today:  I've long known that I have the power and the responsibility to choose how I want to look at any given situation, person, or event.  And I've also known that when I choose to project positive, kind, and affirming thoughts out into the world, the world will usually respond in kind.  And yet, I've too often been guilty of ignoring this huge opportunity to positively impact my own life and that of those around me.  Today was a good start in owning up to that failure and, more importantly, making the shift to kindness.

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