What Does it Mean to Lead with Kindness?

Editor’s note: Today I turn my blog over to someone who, despite the pandemic, has been a frontline retail worker.

I’m sure everyone has heard of the Golden Rule at some point in their lives: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Variations include “treat others the way you wish to be treated,” or simply “be kind.” There are at least twenty different children’s books on the subject (trust me — I shelve most of them) and a fair few for adults as well. But what does it really mean to “be kind”?

Much as I support social media (if I didn’t, I wouldn’t be blogging), it’s done a disservice in portraying acts of kindness as grand gestures like raising thousands of dollars for medical treatment, or gifting someone a car, or paying someone’s rent. People are so focused on the feel-good stories that they forget about the little acts of kindness. Like putting things back where you found them, or looking for things on your own, or not yelling at people for things outside of their control, or not leaving your kids alone to play with the merchandise —

Oops, that was supposed to be my inside voice.

In all seriousness, November and December provide me a yearly examination of what it really means to be kind. It’s an interesting dichotomy to see people who have to make sure their child has the Best. Christmas. Ever. turn around and get angry at retail workers for being out of the year’s most popular toy (shout-out to all the poor employees who have to field calls about the PS5 and the XBox Series X). The behavior suggests that kindness is somehow conditional or — and this is a belief that has unfortunately pervaded for years — retail workers are beneath people.

On the one hand, I understand some of this behavior. People are already stressed because of 2020; and for some, the holidays are the most stressful time of year. Moreover, they don’t have a tangible target to release all that stress on (i.e., the stress can’t be blamed on a person/place/thing), so it builds.

I relate the behavior above to the archery strengthening exercise where you hold the draw as long as you possibly can before firing the arrow. The longer you hold the string back, the harder it gets to keep it there. Now, imagine you’re told you’re not allowed to fire until you see a target. You keep holding the string until you think your arm’s going to break; when suddenly, a target pops up! So of course you’re going to fire the arrow immediately, right?

That arrow is the anger and stress with no tangible target, and we retail workers are big honkin’ bullseyes. But that doesn’t make it ok.

I wish I could say that customers have never treated us so horribly that we’ve cried. I wish I could say that none of us have screamed in the store’s walk-in freezer out of the sheer frustration of not being able to even politely defend ourselves against these people: the helplessness of having to lie on the floor and say “please, walk all over me because you’re the customer.” I can’t say any of those things.

With that in mind, let’s bring it all back around to the topic at hand. A woman at my university once told me “it takes just as much effort to be kind as it does to be mean, so why not be kind?” It’s true: kindness does not take nearly as much effort as you’d think. And those little kindnesses can make someone’s day.

“I don’t know where these go and I didn’t want to leave them lying around, so I brought them to you.” That makes my day.

“It’s not in stock? Ah, well. It is the holidays. Can you order it for me?” Makes my day.

“Have a wonderful holiday and stay safe!” Makes my day.

“You’re all working so hard this year. I really appreciate you.” Really makes my day.

And none of those sentences take much effort at all.

My favorite variation of the Golden Rule comes from a Doctor Who Christmas Special that tells the story of one of the kindest moments in history: the Christmas Truce of 1914. “Always try to be nice but never fail to be kind.”

On that note, I’m going to go and empty the dishwasher without being asked.

Doctor Who: Always try to be nice but never fail to be kind
From the Doctor Who 2017 Christmas Special “Twice Upon a Time”

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