True Kindness

*The following is an extended script of a speech presented at the Fall 2017 District 63 Toastmasters Conference*


What was your best subject in School? Now take that and see if you remember someone complimenting you about that subject along the way. I find that most people have a correlation between the two, and it makes me wonder if it’s a case of the chicken or the egg. Which one came first? Would you have been good at that subject anyway, or was your talent cemented because someone showed you kindness. Imagine that! Your future career choice… your life’s trajectory changed simply because someone showed you kindness.

2017 has been a difficult year for everyone. There have been so many tragedies, a number of man-made ones. It’s in times like these that I tend to sit and digest what happened for a while. And what usually lifts me up, makes me feel better, is to pay attention to the good things that happen around the event. The kindness being shown to those hurt.  Or even to get a much broaders perspective on the situation and think about all the bad things that never happened, all the bad guys who never carried through on their act, because someone showed them kindness.

Kindness today is undervalued, underappreciated, underutilized. We all aspire to being kind, but maybe we’re not as much as we think.

A few years ago, my family and I were at a cafe, we were looking for a table when another family walked in. They had a daughter about the age of ours, and she had no hair. Best guess, some kind of cancer or treatment. My parental instincts kicked in when I realized my daughter had noticed this girl, too. Just then I saw her raise her arm and point her finger directly at this girl. I jumped in front and pushed her arm down and said “No, no, no, we don’t point at people, that’s rude.” And without removing her gaze, she raised her arm back up and said, “I like her glasses.”

“I like her glasses? She has glasses?” She had these bright red thick-rimmed glasses that made her whole face shine. I was too self-absorbed to even notice. I was too concerned with being embarrassed to let that interaction happen. It made me think how many other times have I missed doing a simple act of kindness because I was too afraid of getting it wrong, that I wouldn’t even risk getting it right.

Too often we treat kindness as only a response. To turn the other cheek. If you cut me off in traffic, I’ll let you in. If you’re rude to me, I won’t punch you in the face. Kindness! But that’s just playing defense. If this were football, that’s only half the game. I want to be quarterback looking for opportunities to make a difference. I want to play offense. I want to be offensive!  

OK, not ofFENsive. OFFensive…

Offensive kindness.

Think about it: Would people be more blindsided when they’re offended, or being surprised with kindness?

People make the similar reactions to being offended or shown kindness:

Waiter says “Enjoy your meal.”
Guy, “Well, I sure hope it’s better than the service has been.”
Waiter, “Did you hear that? Can you believe what that guy said to me?”

Waiter, “Enjoy your meal.”
Guy, “Well, If it’s half as good as the service has been, I’m sure it’ll be great.”
Waiter, “Did you hear that? Can you believe what that guy said to me?”

See? Similar reaction, totally different impression. 

But true kindness, that’s not just charity or done out of moral obligation, only works if it’s Selfless, Intentional, and Neutral. That’s S-I-N. Sin. True Kindness is Offensive and SINful. 

Selfless: Halloween night, kids we know were trick-or-treating and came to a house where the lady just ran out of all her candy. This girl and her friends each gave the lady some of their own candy, so she would have some to pass out the rest of the night. That’s an authentic kind of selfless.

Intentional: When I was competing in the speech contest, my coworker Donna told me that if I won District, she would buy me a brand new suit to take to semi-finals. And she did. It was a good-lookin’ tan suit. It didn’t help, I still lost. But good-lookin’.  I can’t tell you how great it felt to be in that stressful moment before the contest, and be wrapped in a blanket of kindness. She intentionally did something she did not have to do.

Neutral: Nonpartisan. True Kindness has no exceptions or limitations. The way I knew we had found the right church to attend, after we had first started visiting, someone in the community had spray painted racist graffiti on a minority-owned business. Our minister organized a community rally to happen in their parking lot. People came with signs about Love and Peace and to stand up and say “this is not who we are!” And I looked at this group, and said these are the people, and this is the kindness I want surrounding my family.

Because true kindness is willing to help anyone no matter who they are.

Kindness seeks out people and wraps others in comfort.

It’s not concerned with what you get, but what you can give.

Kindness looks for opportunities to make a play.

It overcomes awkwardness to pay a compliment.

Simple words of kindness can have a lifelong impact.

May we all be a little more OFFENSive, S-I-N-ful, and kind.

Jus’… do it

As reiterated millions of times, one of the most familiar and long-standing marketing slogans in the history of slogans is Nike’s “Just do it.” As parents, we use this phrase almost as many times as we ask kids to do something. And not in a Shia LaBeouf kind of way, but more in an exhausted manner. Slightly slurred with a hint of desperation and inferred begging: jus’… doit.

The same tone I whisper to myself when the alarm goes off (on the 3rd snooze). When I have to go talk to someone I really don’t want to go talk to. Sitting in the car, before you turn the key, dreading your destination.

Sometimes it’s used with the opposite motivation. “I shouldn’t have a cookie. But it looks so good. I told myself I wouldn’t. Oh, they have white chocolate macadamia nut. Stop staring, just do it.”

I wonder how many things we could accomplish by just doing whatever it is we’ve been contemplating. In quitting smoking, it’s called going Cold Turkey. But really you just finally made the decision to do it. One of the only times in high school where I actually called a girl to ask her out was under the influence of “just do it,” surrounded with encouraging phrases, like

“at least it won’t kill you”

“no one else has to know”

“it’s over the phone so you can still save face”

“worst she can say is no… or is it???”

But really, I got sick of my pathetic-ness and dialed. Her mom answered and said she was out of town for the rest of the summer. See! It didn’t kill me and no one has to know, till now. I don’t even remember her name. But I did it! Sort of.

Fast forward to now. My wife decided to make healthier food choices in January. For her sake and my own, I decided to do it with her. The past couple months I pretty much gave up doing anything healthy because the holidays are a minefield of temptations. Office parties, potlucks, Christmas cookies, my famous Christmas Punch, Salted Caramel Lattes, I could go on. And I did. Many times. And it was glorious.

But it put me up to an all time high weight. Knowing that the problem was my substandard food choices, I knew all I had to do was cut out bread and sugar and it would make a significant difference.  So on New Years Eve I drank my last Sun Drop, and stuffed myself with junk food. One last hurrah! Then went back out to get another Sun Drop. One more last Hurrah!  Then… it was the weekend.

Oh no. The weekend. I didn’t factor this in to the equation. We typically hit restaurants in the time between the food at home running out and Sunday night’s grocery trip. Oh the temptations! Qdoba, Wendy’s, Zaxby’s (Zax sauce), and they all have those new 100 flavor touch-screen Coke machines. So what did I do?

I just did it. The healthier choice that is. Seriously. It’s a coke. How utterly pathetic am I if I can’t say no to a drink choice? Just do it. I got a salad each time instead of a sandwich. It’s not difficult. At all. I’ve lost 5 pounds in a week. Good grief, just do it.

My wife worked as an Meeting Planner at NASA in Cape Canaveral, visited a friend’s office once and asked what he was working on. “Well…. we’re trying to figure out how to get to Mars.” OK. That’s difficult. It is NOT difficult to overcome discouragement when comparing the communion juice cup sized free water to the movie-themed, free-refills, 32oz “medium” cup. Anything that could be categorized as a First World Problem is not difficult.

Maybe this falls in line with the modern day, catered, spoiled brat syndrome (that’s a medical term). We like to dramatize everything to the point where it feels just as hard, but it’s not. I’ve been dragging my feet with this Public Speaking idea for about a year and a half. Ever since I won the District contest and had the thought that maybe, just maybe I’m actually good enough. If you want something, you have to ask for it, right? Just do it. So I did at the easiest of opportunities, the chamber meeting where I’m a member, the church’s men’s retreat, our Toastmaster meetings (anything counts), and others I’m queuing up. Idea is to always have a speech scheduled ahead of me to be working on. Progress is happening. Cause I’m a genius? Cause of all the podcasts? Cause of a how-to guide? No. I just did it.

Two caveats: (aren’t there always)

First. Yes of course there are real problems that might take something extra to accomplish. Actual serious addictions. Medical factors. Rare opportunistic situations. Obviously not every want can be instantaneous.

Second. I’ve been endlessly listening to podcasts, lectures, and interviews for the past few weeks. Once in a while there’s a nugget of info that sticks with me. One today was to combine the undesirable thing you should do with something you want to do, like only watch your favorite show while on the treadmill (credit: Christine Carter). That’s a neat idea. There’s nothing wrong with finding an avenue, or a gimmick, or an app that helps get it done. Just do it!

So try this experiment. Find the smallest possible change you would want to make. Going to bed on time. One less coffee. Not looking at your phone during church. Then do it. It’s downright silly how empowering it is to overcome the most menial challenge. Congrats, you get a gold star.

NO! You do not get a gold star! JUST DO IT, you baby!

I’m sorry.

I didn’t mean to yell… *sigh*

jus’… do it

Learning to say No

I am a Yes-Man to a fault. It’s so bad that I don’t even have to be asked to do something, I seem to just find myself getting involved. Sure it comes across as me helping, volunteering, or working hard. Makes me look good. But let’s be honest, sometimes it’s just my attention-needy ego. I don’t want to let people down by saying “No,” and I enjoy the occasional adoration by saying “Yes.” Being a Yes-Man will blow up in your face at some point. My time peaked around spring of 2014. I had a Full-time job, church drama, chamber of commerce, neighborhood association, a kid, kid’s school, wife, social media manager, foster care, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Semi-Finalist for World Championship of Public Speaking, and running for City Council. I list those things not to gloat (see narcissism above), but to show just how ridiculous I was in thinking I could actually do all those things well. I would advise you to not live your life in a similar fashion. In a culture where we’re deceived into thinking more is better, this is not the case, and here are a few reasons:

First, you will fail in all categories to a degree. There are 24 hours in the day. Mathematically there is only so much you can do. It is impossible to do everything you want to do; or in my case, everything I agreed to doing. To compensate, I tried to keep all the plates spinning in the air at the same time. Five minutes here, 20 minutes there. Never giving my full attention to any of the categories.

(I just indirectly called my wife a “category.” These accidents tend to happen when you over do it.)

As a result, you end up neglecting one of the items. I would try to squeeze everything in, or do double-duty. I’d practice my speech while knocking on doors for the council race. My mind was constantly on the race while at work. I would spend my after-work hours campaigning instead of being home. Then the next day I’d feel guilty for being away, and stay at home when I really should be out shaking hands and kissing babies. In the end, I lost the race but at least my wife’s happy, so draw your own conclusions. (Side note: my go-to joke while running was that I was out “kissing hands and shaking babies.” Yeah, don’t say anything, I know…)

Another risk is that you might lose respect or credibility. I don’t think I did with anyone, but I was on the verge. Sounds like the plot of a sitcom, where the main character tries to manage two dates simultaneously, hilarity ensues, but he ends up hurting both women. At any point someone might call your bluff, or at least demand the full amount promised. If that happened to me, I would have come up short. My forgiving wife was the only one to know how under water I really was.

Lastly, you’re not focused on what you really want to do. I can look at that list see that I should have dropped at least four of those things. I need a job, I love my family, after that…. what do I really want to do? If I removed the obligations, the social pressure, the ego, if I really could just do one of the things and do it well, which would it be?

To say “No” can be selfless. If you really can’t live up to the expectations or just don’t want to, be honest and allow the person asking to find someone who can. I was asked to be an officer for our local Toastmasters club, this was as my son was about to be born, so I said No. The current leadership is doing great and over the past few months I’ve realized how I can help the club in other ways. Participation in regular meetings is always a struggle and that’s totally something I can do. I’ve decided that I’m going to pursue getting a DTM (Distinguished Toastmaster accreditation) instead as part of my steps toward Public Speaking. Look! I said “No” and everything is OK! No one hates me, and we’re all better for it.

I suppose I ended up answering the “which would it be?” question for myself. It took buying a new house in a different county which forced me out of neighborhood roles, and having a baby gave me an excuse to slow everything else down. So here I am, testing the waters on public speaking. And loving every success and stumble (I stumbled today, more on that next time….)