2nd Prize goes to Ross at Drinking Tips for Teens for “The Secret Side-Effect of Kindness”. His essay is a gentle reminder of how we impact each other with even the simplest of acts.
He was sent one Green Study Coffee Mug and an extraneous Minnesota postcard. I also made a $75 donation to the Canadian Red Cross.
The Secret Side-Effect of Kindness
By Ross Murray at Drinking Tips for Teens
I’m a big believer in balance: work-life balance, balanced diet, balance beams. There’s no cause without effect and no effect without a cause.
Consequently, I don’t expect people to be especially kind to me, because I generally feel I’ve done little to deserve it.
It’s not that I’m so filled with self-loathing and covert kitten-kicking that I think I’m unworthy of basic human decency. It’s that most of the time I feel I haven’t done anything exceptional to warrant anything exceptional being done for me.
It’s about that balance, karma if you will. In the balance of my life, I shouldn’t expect kindness. I should expect impatient tolerance, exasperated benevolence, begrudging kindness at best.
I suspect a lot of (neurotic, insecure) people feel this way about themselves, this sort of reverse entitlement. One of my favourite literary characters is Frank Bascombe, who has grown middle-aged and old in four novels by Richard Ford. Frank is always questing, but I think his quest can be summed up like this: be a decent man and try not to be an asshole. There are worse quests. I’m a bit of a Frank.
Yet despite my inner asshole, people are kind to me, considerably kind, and it always takes me by surprise.
Earlier this summer, I hired my neighbour Clint to replace some rotting wood on our front porch, a job that required the tools, know-how and patience for measuring that I lacked. Clint came over, dug out the rot, replaced it, smoothed the join, tacked on some molding, job well done. “How much?” I asked. He waved me off. Ten bucks for the wood and glad to help.
“No, really,” I said. “I asked you because I was going to pay you, otherwise I wouldn’t have asked.”
“Don’t worry about it,” he said, so I paid him the $10, plus, at my wife’s suggestion, beer, because sometimes beer is even better than money.
There’s more. This summer, friends and strangers answered my Kickstarter appeal to finance the printing of yet another self-published book the world absolutely does not need. They did so without any evidence that I can write fiction, other than my word for it, which could have been a fiction in itself.
The publisher of the newspaper that runs my weekly column recently served as my unofficial agent in setting up two events for me, one a workshop for high school English students, the other a reading and fundraiser at a local library. The impetus for her involvement is a little convoluted, but ultimately she set these gigs up for me out of kindness. “We’re proud of you,” she wrote. Publisher pride is even better than Mom pride.
I could go on and on, the kindness that people have shown me over the last few months and years and life.
I’m taken aback by this kindness. What have I done to deserve it?
Must be something.
And that’s the secret side effect of kindness.
Everyone knows that being kind to others makes you feel good. A selfless act is never entirely selfless because you feel the warmth of connecting with a fellow human. Bringing joy into another person’s life is hugely satisfying.
But the secret side effect is that the recipient of the kindness feels worthy, feels decent, feels that their quest not to be an asshole is somehow succeeding, despite all the dark thoughts, misdeeds and deeds not done, all those sarcastic comments and passive-aggressive emails, not to mention the shameless self-promotion in the guise of a thoughtful blog post. If life is about balance, and I receive kindness, then I must deserve it.
To realize that you must have lived your life in such a way as to have earned kindness is gratifying and healthy. It turns out that how others see you can help you see yourself more generously.
This past weekend, a neighbour down the street saw me up the ladder, painting, painting, always painting. She asked how tall the ladder was. I said I didn’t know. (I bet Clint would know.) She went on to tell me she was having trouble reaching a point over a stairway on the side of her own house, which she too was in the process of painting.
I don’t know this neighbour well, don’t even know her name, honestly, but I carried my ladder down the street, maneuvered it against her house and then offered to paint the patch for her. I thought of all those people who’d been kind to me, and I offered this small kindness.
I felt good about it. I bet she did too.
Ross Murray is the author of two books: You’re Not Going to Eat That, Are You?, a collection of his news columns over the years and just recently published A Hole in the Ground, a work of fiction, which is available for purchase right at this very moment. I was one of the proud sponsors during his Kickstarter campaign and I’m in the middle of reading it – worth every penny.
Here’s a Drinking Tips for Teens sampler: