kindness: a universal language

polite, busy and unrushed

I was standing in the corner of this restaurant in Tulum, waiting for our take-out order. It was extremely busy, and I had my back pushed tight up against a wall (trying to stay out of the way of the waiters and kitchen staff) but no one was looking at me like, “What is she standing back here for? or Move! or Back up!”…actually quite the opposite. When anyone caught my eye, they always smiled, and in my vain attempts to back even further up against the wall, trying to give them a little more room to navigate by, they always said, “Gracias.”

Everyone worked around everyone else with efficiency and a sense of ease, even though the place was full, there was a waiting line outside, 6 people waiting for their take-out orders, and it was at least 90 degrees with no air conditioning. I didn’t hear one raised voice during my 20 minute wait. No chef yelling at kitchen help, no waiters impatient with customers (or vice versa)…it was like a bee-hive pleasantly humming along… and I loved it.

Far too often, I’ve made excuses for my behaviour saying that I was hot, or tired , or not feeling well, and yet deep down, I know that I always have a choice about my actions and treatment of others (and myself!). The food in this restaurant was really good, but what stays with me, is the genuine courtesy that I was shown.

A word of kindness is seldom spoken in vain, while witty sayings are as easily lost as the pearls slipping from a broken string“. George Dennison Prentice

What kind thoughts can you think about yourself this weekend? What are you doing so well, everyday, that you take this part of yourself for granted, and don’t realize what a gift you are to the world? This might be a good question to ask your higher self over the next few days.

15 thoughts on “kindness: a universal language”

  1. One simple thing I learned many years ago, was to always call the person you were speaking with by name. To read their nametag, or listen when they say it…the checkout person in the grocery store, your server in the restaurant, the TSA person checking your ticket and ID at the airport…anyone, anywhere. We all like to be recognized, and it makes every interaction a bit more personal and can turn a potential negative experience into a postitive one very quickly. I especially learned this lesson in May, 1995, at the Federal Building in Houston, Texas. My husband and I were in a long line in an attempt to get our passport. It is hot in Houston in May. And, just two short weeks before, the Federal Building in Oklahoma had been blown up. Security was extra tight at all the Federal Buildings around the country and Houston was no exeption. We were in lines for hours. As we approached the ‘windows’ where the transaction would take place and we’d be speaking with a Federal employee to help us, I was astonished at what I saw. There were about 6 ‘windows’ for 100’s of people trying to gets Visas and passports, and no one was happy. Tensions were high given the events of the prior weeks, people were yelling and screaming at each other. People of all nations…hot, tired, impatient, nervous. There was one particular woman behind a window who seemed to be getting the most irritated customers…I watched her for over an hour before it was our turn and sure enough when our number came up it was at her window! And I just knew she was about to ‘blow’! We walked up to the counter, and the first thing I did was smile, call her by name, and tell her what a great job she was doing and how amazed I was that she was able to keep her cool in spite of the behaviour of some of the customers. She physically stopped what she was doing, looked up at me, reached for my hand under the window, and simply said “thank you”. Our transaction took about 10 minutes, went smoothly, and we got our passports in less than two weeks. I hadn’t dared to ask her to put a rush on them (even though we had a trip coming up) given what I had witnessed. But I did trust in kindness…

    Wow…sorry this is so long! And now I am thinking ‘did I comment about this before’? I’m having a senior moment this morning! Have a great weekend everyone!

    1. I love this, Kathye. I know if more people did this, the world would be so much nicer. I haven’t had an experience like this, but even in the grocery line in our town, people get so huffy about waiting. I’m standing patiently (why get stirred up over something out of your control), and those around are, “Why don’t they open more lines, this person is so slow, what ever line I’m in is the slowest, I’ve got things to do………” Their blood pressure must be sky high by the time they are checking out.
      When I get up to the front of the line, I do just what you are saying, I acknowledge them by name and say something like, ” Wow, it sure is busy today – bless your heart!” They smile and seem to be renewed by a kind word. Sometimes I don’t feel very special and wonder why I am here, what is my purpose in life. Maybe it is just to be that one person to brighten someone else’s day or lift their burden of life for a moment. Mary, your blog made me think of this. Thank you! Mary, I have seen what you are talking about – the buzz of activity in a busy place and no one getting ruffled, just pleasantness. It is so refreshing and renewing!

    2. Kathye, I was checking out at our local Target the day before Thanksgiving last year. There was a lot of press and online buzz about how these stores were opening on Thanksgiving to beat the “Black Friday” shopping rush. I said to my cashier that I hoped she wasn’t going to have to come in on Thanksgiving and she burst into tears. Her husband had been laid off months ago; hers was their only income; she had no choice but to come to work on Thanksgiving; she told her children she wouldn’t be home to cook Thanksgiving dinner; they were terribly upset, etc. My heart goes out to people who work in these service industries, on their feet all day, not well-paid, with no control over their hours, dealing with the rest of us yakking on cell phones and barely acknowledging their presence and their help. We’re privileged enough to have money to shop in these stores, and eat in these restaurants, and apply for passports, and own cars so we need driver’s licenses — let us all acknowledge our neighbors who are working hard and dealing with the rest of us!

      1. Special thanks to Jill, Molly and Kathye for your attitude of gratitude! We are privileged indeed while so many others have little control over their job requirements—blessings to all who take a precious moment to advance kindness in place of self-absorption.

        I went to my local bookstore recently to listen to an author speak about his book ‘The Misleading Mind’ and life experiences after spending 14 years in Tibet studying Buddhism. He recommends an exercise to test your patience (and subsequent mind chatter that we’re all guilty of!) :
        For instance, in his book, Cayton talks about one of the mundane experiences of general unhappiness in modern life: sitting in traffic. As an experiment, he suggests, you should make your commute worse than it already is — deliberately catch red lights, drive behind slow drivers. The idea is to watch what your mind does to make you miserable while all this is going on. Did embracing the idea of a time-consuming commute make it a different experience?
        I tried it and it does! Wishing one and all a kind, easy, memorable Memorial Day weekend!

  2. I had a similar experience in a busy mexican restaurant in Cambridge, MA – the people that worked there were really wonderful – so courteous. I always feel like I am in a hurry, or have to hurry. I know I need to slow it down a bit. Thanks for the reminder – of having a relaxed pace in a busy world.
    And thanks too for the much needed assignment! Love to you and all…oxox

  3. Mary, I really like the idea of thinking about what we do right this weekend. Most of the time I’m thinking about what I feel I’m doing wrong, especially since I’m in the midst of parenting 2 teenage boys! This weekend I will only think about what I’m doing right..I’m interested to see how this change in my thinking will go!
    P.s I love your new haircut!

  4. Mary, wonderful reminder that life is just so much better when we’re kind to one another, sometimes in the simplest ways and in the most everyday of circumstances.

    Kathye, LOVED your story! What a gift your presence was to that overworked and under appreciated woman. I have a friend who reminds me in such circumstances that acts of kindness are like ripples in a pond … you never know how far they go. Who knows how that woman’s life was improved by your simple kindness, and what kindness she therefore passed on to others, and they to others, and so on into the distance. Fantastic!

  5. Kathye, how timely. My son has a passport appointment today (and he graduates from high school tonight). Your story and Mary’s reminder support my belief that very few of us up our game, so to speak, when we are ‘punished.’ Harsh words tend to have the opposite effect, whereas a gesture of appreciation or support can be so powerful, raising up a job or action to the next level. Mary, you are so right: genuine courtesy is a lasting gift.

  6. I have for years now, hopefully modeling for my son and daughter, to thank everyone I encounter for their time. Because our time is a most precious gift and when someone gives us their time it should be valued. What I have noticed is that most people are stopped in their tracks, not really knowing how to react. Then there is usually a smile and a heartfelt “your welcome” or “you made my day”. I will continue to do this as long as I draw breath. Thank you for your time Mary.

  7. I’ve loved reading everyone’s experiences about waiting in line. Being a cashier in a grocery store, I am often the receiver of customers’ impatience and frustration after waiting in line. Having this job for 35 years has given me a particular attitude about these situations. I know that they are probably not really angry at me. (This took me years to learn). Also, it’s not just waiting in line that they are upset about. Maybe their lives in general feel out of control, and waiting just reminds them of that. Lately, I’ve been trying to bless, or think good thoughts about these people. That helps me deal with them. Having said that, there are the wonderful, special people who acknowledge me, the situation, and wish me well. Thank you to all of those special people:) Wishing everyone a good holiday weekend, and I will be remembering this post as I am checking out hundreds of customers on their way to celebrations of all sorts.

    1. That’s a beautiful way to relate to others who are upset and ready to blame someone (anyone!) for their experience. Thanks for that thought.

  8. I loved this story Mary. It’s hard to think of myself as a gift to the world. But I will seriously work on this over the Holiday Weekend. I get most of my insights from nature. Welcome back home. I hope you’ve completed the re-entry phase successfully!

  9. I was happy to see you in the Food Co-op today, Mary. Your hair looked great; your colorful shirt, and relaxed persona said good things to me about your trip. But, there will still be no palm trees when you look out your window in the morning! Glad to have you and Jack Out Back in the neighborhood. MRS

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