A lot of us moan about the state of our national discussions — and even how people talk to each other. I've done it myself a ton, convinced that we need more civility and that on every level we ought to address each other a bit more nicely. Sometimes, I'm even kind of rude while trying to make my "be sweet" point.
My theme has been that too many people not only disagree, but are nasty about it, and if we don't find a different way to communicate with others, we're not going to get anything done — or have anyone who wants to talk to us.
But I feel like I got a feel-good injection this weekend.
Two things came together for me in very unexpected fashion. First, I interviewed a psychologist named Dale Atkins who, with her niece Amanda Salzhauer, wrote "The Kindness Advantage: Cultivating Compassionate and Connected Children." Atkins said very sincerely that she thinks kids are "hardwired to be kind."
Really? I love almost everything about kids, but I've seen an awful lot of shoving and grabbing toys and wailing and doing everything possible to avoid sharing. So that's not a description that would normally first come to my mind if you asked me to tell you about children. My thought is that we have to teach kids not to be selfish. She, however, is certain that's not the case. Rather, life and the people around them teach kids to leave behind their kindness. It doesn't get nurtured enough, so it fades.
That same day, my daughter came across a student's homework assignment left behind on her computer and she showed it to me because we love to pass those "Aw, cute" moments back and forth.
My daughter is in college and works part time with grade school-age kids in an after-school program. And one of them borrowed her computer for a few minutes to do his homework. What he left on her computer is simply grand.
The boy had apparently been assigned to compliment kids in his class and it was an assignment he tackled with gusto. His praise was lavish and lovely and kind of inspiring.
I've changed all the names, but here's what he wrote:
W, "You are nice, helpful and joyful. I like how you do car (sic) wheels that is wonderful."
X, "You are so funny and smart every time when the teacher told you to bring your math book out and you say what do we bring out again? It makes me laugh."
Y, "You are nice when I fell down you help me up. Thank you."
Z, "You are kind and you share your Pokemon and you always hug me. Thank you."
Like a lot of people, I feel as if in 2018 I was seduced by how easy it is to spot what feels wrong and carp about the state of the world, instead of also looking for what's right. When I was a young reporter starting out (boy, that was a while ago), a wise colleague told me that anyone can write a nasty book or movie review, even a clever one. It's easier to say mean things in funny or compelling fashion than it is to pay a compliment that sounds heartfelt, no matter how sincere it is. And experience has taught me that's true.
Atkins makes a good point. I never feel happy when I've been mean, but saying something nice and watching someone blossom never leaves me feeling anything but joyful.
So little boy, your compliments were delightful and I like how you see and call out the sweetest examples of goodness.
You find different, simple things to like about those around you. Thanks for accidentally reminding me to seek my better self and send her out into the world.