A lady named Maureen once told me of the time when she was driving towards the Forth Road Bridge in Scotland.
It’s a toll bridge and a mile or two from the toll plaza she pulled out in front of another driver. It was an accident. We’ve all done it. A momentary lapse in concentration, a blind spot on the mirror.
Fortunately there was no collision, but the other driver was furious. He peeped his horn for what seemed like an hour. He then drew up alongside her. His face was red with rage. He mouthed some expletives before flashing her a middle-finger gesture and speeding off.
Maureen was shaken. She felt very upset. But she took a few deep breaths and proceeded towards the toll.
As it happened, when she arrived at the toll booth, the angry man was now behind her. It must have happened as some drivers shuffle from one line to the next to try to find the fastest queue. Evidently that strategy hadn’t worked out so well for him.
Maureen had always believed that kindness can solve so many of our problems in life, so she paid his toll.
As she pulled away, her shoulders eased, her smile returned, and she felt at ease, completely opposite from just a few moments earlier.
Soon, the driver pulled up alongside her again, but this time mouthing something different.
With a much-softened face, he said “THANK YOU” and gently tapped his hand on his heart. Smiling, he then nodded his head a few times towards her and drove off.
Maureen felt stunned, yet satisfied that once again in the laboratory of her own life, kindness had diffused a negative situation. She’s a guidance counsellor in a high school. She has a soft voice and kind eyes. I think of some of the lucky kids who are sent to her, receiving an education in the importance of kindness.
It’s so easy to counter anger with anger, aggression with aggression. Like vs like is how it is for most people. It’s how so many situations escalate. Countering with kindness seems counterintuitive, but it works much of the time.
Yes, using kindness means you don’t get to say your piece, you don’t get to list all the person’s faults or point out the wrongness of what they have said or done. But it can prevent a situation from escalating. It takes two to tango, as they say.
It’s not easy. It definitely takes practice. But it’s worth it.
It doesn’t always have to be an act of kindness. It can be with a few words. Hurt people hurt people, as they say. Taking a moment to acknowledge that a person’s behaviour might stem from some pain makes it a little easier to respond kindly.
A simple thing that can work quite well is even to lower your voice and speak more slowly. Our brains are wired to recognise that type of thing as non-threatening and signals the nervous system to relax, both yours and the other person’s.
I have often wondered about Maureen and the angry man. Who knows, without Maureen’s intervention he may have carried his anger with him through the rest of the evening. I’ve wondered if he might have taken it out on his wife, perhaps even shouted at his kids.
I don’t know and I can only wonder. Maybe.
But kindness changed his immediate future. If research into the ripple effect of kindness counts for anything, it is almost certain that the man would have spread some kindness himself. Kindness lifts us, it inspires us to see more in people, to be better friends, husbands, wives, neighbours, colleagues.
Kindness is powerful. It can create real and lasting change.
And it’s so simple.
So here’s my tip for the day. Be the source of the experience of kindness in someone’s life today.