Kindness. 2. Don’t Be Quiet. Be Kind.

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I was having a conversation with a friend the other day, telling him about a time not long ago when someone said to me, “I didn’t have anything nice to say, so I didn’t say anything at all.”

We’ve all heard this in various forms before. I’m sure I’ve even repeated it offhand, reminding someone that it is better to be quiet than to be mean. “If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” That’s old. And to some extent, it’s true. If you can only think of shitty things to say, then just keep your mouth shut.

But if you can only think of shitty things to say, you have a lot of work to do. Because you can always be kind. Always.

Last week, my band performed a big show here in our little town. And watching the show was a friend who I know doesn’t particularly like my singing style. It’s not her thing, and that’s fine. But she came to the show. And you know what she said afterwards? She said, “The sound was great!”

And she was right. The sound was great. And that mattered. I love her for not just keeping quiet because the music we make isn’t her jam. She found something nice to say, to show her love and support.

Because there’s always something nice to say.

Someone got a haircut, tattoo or piercing you don’t like? Don’t say it looks like ass, because that’s douchy. And it makes it all about you. Who cares if you don’t like it? Someone’s haircut, tattoo, piercing, music, painting, and general lifestyle choices have nothing to do with you and how you feel about them. So don’t make it about you.

And don’t keep your mouth shut, because you know what? That’s also douchy.

You know she wanted to get that buzz cut. You know he wanted that rising phoenix tattoo. You know she wanted that eyebrow piercing.

Try “Hey! You finally got your hair cut! Good for you!”

Try “Wow, look at the colours in that tattoo!”

Try “I’m proud of you for finally getting that piercing. You’ve been talking about it for a long time.”

Try “Are you happy? Then I’m happy for you.” And mean it.

Someone wearing something that’s not your style? Compliment the colour.

Someone making art you don’t appreciate? Commend them for being brave, and putting their art out there for the world to judge. That’s a hard thing to do.

Someone invite you for dinner but then serve something that was barely palatable? Enjoy their company, and tell them you enjoyed their company. Thank them for their effort. Be gracious. Be kind.

Being quiet isn’t kind. Being quiet is a cop-out. Being quiet speaks volumes. Being quiet is a shitty way to be with the people in your life.

Don’t be quiet. Be kind.

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Kindness. 1.

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Amira has always been an early riser, and when she was first born and the weather was still nice, I used to take her out early so Stu could get a couple more hours of sleep, and I could get the hell out of the house. One of the places Amira and I used to hang out in was our local Wal-Mart.

I know. Wal-Mart. I KNOW. But these were desperate times. And they knew what they were doing when they set that place up. It’s huge, you can walk up and down a hundred aisles, stopping to look at a million things, and spend hours in there just reading the magazines. They open early. And they have a McDonald’s. So once in a while, Amira and I would head to Wal-Mart early in the morning, just to go somewhere. She’d gurgle in her car seat, I’d have a coffee, people would ooooh and aaaahh over her while I smiled my proud-mother smile (because no one wants to hear the tired-mom sigh), and drink more coffee.

So anyway, this one morning in early September, we were at Wal-Mart. It was early. Like, I was sitting in McDonald’s with a cup of coffee in my hands by 7:00am early. It was cool and crisp, and just the kind of weather I loved to dress for. But on this day, like on so many other days during this time, it was ill-fitting jeans, boots that needed a good polish and some oversized sweater that hid my breastfeeding bra stuffed with those “Why are my boobs leaking?” pads. My hair was tied back. I wasn’t wearing makeup. I loved my baby, but the truth is, I didn’t recognize my myself, or my life.

As usual, a couple of the senior citizens who also troll Wal-Mart early in the morning stopped by our table, cooed over Amira, and went on their way. Then one of the older ladies who worked at McDonalds came over.

I’d seen her there a few times. She was probably in her early sixties, she was super-quick on her feet, and she always gave me my coffee with a smile.

She came over and said, “Good morning! She looks happy today!”

I replied with my usual stock response, “She’s really good.”

And then the lady said to me, “And how are you?”

My eyes welled up with tears. I just looked at her, not really believing that she had seriously asked how I was doing. And it wasn’t just that she asked, it was the way she asked. It was both the concern and sincerity in her voice. It was her vulnerability in asking me, with as much love as she had, how was doing – a question I had been asked in passing a hundred times over the past few months, but mostly by people who just asked for the sake of politeness, even by most of my family and friends. This lady meant it.

“I’m okay,” I replied. But she had already seen my tears.

“Is there anything I can do?” she asked.

“No, really. I’m okay. But thank you so much for asking.” I meant it. And she knew it.

The weather got colder, and Amira and I hung out at Wal-Mart less. I saw that lady a couple of times again, but we didn’t really speak, until two years later.

The week before Stu, Amira and I moved to Costa Rica, I went back to that Wal-Mart. I stood in line at McDonalds until this lady was standing in front of me asking, “What can I get for your, Dear?”

I told her that I didn’t want to buy anything. I reminded her of our conversation that morning, two years before. She didn’t remember, but I’ll never forget it. I told her what her sincerity had meant to me, and that I hadn’t forgotten it. I told her we were moving next week, and I probably wouldn’t ever see her again, but I wanted her to know that I so appreciated her generosity and concern for me on that day two years before.

I haven’t seen her since we moved. But I still remember her kindness.

The Secret Ingredient

The other day, I was watching one of my favourite animated movies, Kung Fu Panda.  It’s a great movie about overcoming who you think you can’t be to become the person you truly can be.

Watching it this time, one moment stood out in a way it hadn’t before.  Po the Panda dreams of being a Kung Fu master.  But after coming to the conclusion that he doesn’t have what it takes, he is reunited with his father and resigns himself to a life working in his family’s noodle soup shop.  Then his father tells him a secret:

Mr. Pring: Po, I think it’s time I told you something I should have told you a long time ago.

Po: Ok

Mr. Ping: The Secret Ingredient of my Secret Ingredient Soup.

Po: Oh…

Mr. Ping: Come here.  The secret ingredient is…nothing.  …. To make something special, you just have to believe it’s special.

Po: There is no secret ingredient.

Did you ever watch someone do something you’ve always wanted to do, but thought you couldn’t?  They can, because they’re special.  They have something you don’t.  That’s why they can do it and you can’t.  That’s why they’re doing it, and you’re not.  They’re special.  They’re unique.  He has a talent.  She has a gift.

Wrong, wrong, wrong.  But a little bit right.

I thought a lot about this, because I’ve done it.  I’ve had moments – many of them – where I deluded myself into thinking that I couldn’t do something because I didn’t have the innate talent.  I didn’t have the secret ingredient.  But what I realized is that there is a secret ingredient, but it’s not talent.  It’s not genetics.  It’s not an innate ability to do something.

Mr. Ping said to make something special, you just have to believe it’s special.

Belief.  That’s the secret ingredient.  To really believe you can do something.  So see it happening in your mind’s eye.  To know that it’s there – whatever it is – within reach.  You just have to reach forward and grab it.

And the reaching forward, the grabbing, is the other secret ingredient.  You can’t just stand there and hope it will come to you.  It won’t.  Those who get it go and get it.  They put in the work.  The hours, the sweat, the late nights and the practice practice practice practice to get what they want.  They work hard, because they believe.

Effort.  Determination.  Perseverance.  These are the secret ingredients.  Not a talent you were born with or that something that you just know how to do.  Lots of people have talent and are sitting on their asses doing nothing.  Those who do something don’t all have talent.  They believe.  They are determined.  They try and they practice and they fall and they get back up.  They have perseverance.

What have you not been doing because you told yourself you couldn’t?  Because you told yourself you don’t have what it takes?  Stop it.  You have everything you need.  Try, then try harder, then try again.  Work, practice, sharpen your tools, over and over, every day.

Believe.

Because that’s the secret ingredient.