Friday, January 6, 2012

The Homeless Man

Every day when I take the kids to school we walk by a homeless man sitting in his wheelchair holding out a paper cup. I never give him money. I don't have any to spare.

Yesterday I spontaneously stopped and said, "I'm sorry, I walk by you every day and I never give you money. I wish I could, but I was barely able to pay my rent this month."

He said "Oh NO your family comes first! What's your name, I'm Walter."

So I shook his glove-covered hand and introduced myself.

"Cori," he said, "someday I hope to be in a position to help you. Yeah, I'd like to help you. Have a wonderful day."

And I did. 
So he did.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

A Flaw in The Golden Rule

Yesterday I wrote about my 2012 resolution to be kind and I claimed The Golden Rule as my definition of kindness.

I'm wrong.

The Golden Rule (in all it's incarnations) asks you to do to other as you'd like them to do to you. In its simplest form this can be beautiful – a well-meant smile or a sincere compliment – but the phrase itself is selfish. Who's to say if others want to be treated the way you like. For example, some women think that a gentleman should open the door for her and others accuse the act as a statement of implied weakness.

Kindness and The Golden Rule, I've decided, are not interchangeable. Instead, kindness – in the deeper sense than general politeness – means to do to others as they'd like you to do to them. It means looking beyond yourself and standing - as best you can - in their shoes. Respect the person to whom you are communicating by having due regard for their feelings, wishes, rights, and traditions.

Maybe you're the kind of person that welcomes a warm hug as a greeting; others don't. If you know someone isn't a touchy person, greet them with a smile and (if you must) a pat on the shoulder. A mundane example perhaps, but it illustrates my point.

And so I revoke The Golden Rule as a definition of kindness and place in its stead politeness and respect. My revised 2012 resolution.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Be Kind

In addition to choosing a theme word for 2012, I've also resolved to be kind.

Kindness means all sorts of things to different people. For me, it means to do to others as I'd like them to do to me. If I were Christian, I'd point you to Luke 6:31, the Golden Rule. As a Jew I might tell you read Leviticus 19:18 and hope that I am close enough to be considered a neighbor. Of course, you don't have to dig far to see that every religion has a version of this commandment in its scripture.

When I lived in New York City, a gazillion years ago, I had a roommate from Wisconsin who would say, "kill 'em with kindness." I loved the phrase and began the practice myself. Very quickly I learned that kindness is an extremely effective weapon. A grumpy cab driver or store clerk would visibly relax when greeted with a genuine "hello" and a smile. Saying "thank you" or "I hope you have a great afternoon" would illicit a surprised grin. Smiles are contagious and excellent for maintaining mental health. Did the next customer receive a smile as well? How many people "caught" the original smile bug that began with me?

Being kind also means taking a moment to think before reacting or speaking. My first response to someone being crass might be to defensively return the sentiment. But if I can remember to pause and consider this person's stories (known and not) I might be able to forgive the words and respond with kindness. Perhaps they are dealing with life changes, maybe they got some bad news, it's possible that someone just insulted them or yelled or ... the point is, being kind won't add to their misery and it might just help.

So, if I'm called a bitch by the gardener? Instead of yelling back or taking it personally I could say, "oh gosh, I'm sorry you're having a bad day." Do you think my response would incite him to call me more names? It's possible, but not likely.

Be kind and thrive. It's my 2012.

UPDTATE: Shortly after writing this I decided that there is a major flaw in the Golden Rule and kindness is not its equivalent. You can read it here.

Sunday, January 1, 2012


The first man I dated after leaving my marriage told me I was a wreck and that I wouldn't be normal for two years. He said it with such certainty that it couldn't be anything but true. This statement - which I took as fact - carried me through the weeks and months that followed. Everything would be OK by the end of 2010 <video>. "I'd be normal."

Funny thing. He was right.

So by the beginning of 2011 I'd reached a new normal. I'd gotten through the divorce and its aftermath. My ex had settled in with his girlfriend - a woman liked by both the kids and me. Online dating lost its intrigue and I gave it up in the first quarter of the year. Concentrating on my new(ish) roll of single mom, I tried my best to conquer the challenges and relish the joys. It's a journey that won't end anytime soon, but it's no longer one that scares me.

So now it's 2012 and I can confidently claim that this particular stage in my life is over. All the energy and effort placed on pushing through the last three years can be forayed towards living a better life. There is a lot I'd like to accomplish in the next several years. I've got things to do and places to go and children to raise and a business to grow. And there isn't anything holding me back anymore. There are no excuses.

On December 31, 2009 NPR suggested summarizing the year in a single word. I chose "transition". And then, in an exercise suggested by a group of friends, I decided on a theme word for 2010 - it was momentum. A verb that I carried all the way through 2011.

Momentum has pushed me along for two years and I've come out the other side. The time has come to change the word and move forward and grow strong. Thrive.

Thrive. It's my theme word for 2012. What's yours?