By Richard Bleil
Back in the early ’80’s, I was living in a dorm pursuing a degree in chemistry. Back then, there were no cell phones. In the dorm room, there was a phone attached to the wall. Now phone numbers travel with the individual, but back then, they were assigned. The area code and exchange were assigned to the university.
One evening, the phone rings, and a woman was on the line. Her voice sounded like a friend of mine, so I started talking with her. Eventually, it became clear that this was not my friend, and, in fact, I didn’t know her.
As it turns out, she would dial the area code and exchange for the university until a male voice answered. If it was a female, or if there was no number, she just hung up and tried another number. She didn’t want to “talk dirty”, she just wanted to talk. And talk. And talk some more.
Whatever was going on with her, it was clear that she needed to talk, and I was willing to listen. She called back from time to time, and we had many many long conversations about everything and nothing at all.
Sometimes, people just need a little bit of human kindness, and, if we’re honest with ourselves, we’ve all been in a situation where we were the ones in need.
It can be something simple. Trying to turn right in a construction zone with a red light just a block away with traffic backed up past our street, we just need somebody to be kind enough to let us in, or, frankly, just not block the intersection. Maybe we’ve had a really bad day, and we just need someone to be nice to us.
When I was the Dean, I used to routinely cut in front of a student in line at the little convenience store and coffee shop, and insist that my things be rung up first. Then I would turn to the student, and say, “well that was rude of me…here, put these on my bill too” and I would pay for them.
Okay, sometimes it didn’t work out. Towards the end of the year, they had money left on their meal plan that they were trying to use up, but, heck, my heart was in the right place.
Sometimes, it’s difficult to tell what kind of an impact you are making. Every moment of every day we are throwing our energy out into our surroundings, whether that energy be positive or negative, for better or for worse.
I had an interesting argument with a colleague of mine. He insisted that I must be Christian. While I’m very spiritual, I haven’t used the label “Christian” for many many years. I’ve never heard God’s voice in a church, never found Her wisdom in a sermon, and became disenfranchised by those who use their church as entitlement to judge others. And yet, he insisted that I must be Christian, because I am a moral man, and only Christians, he argued, can be moral.
Anybody can be moral.
It’s a choice. How do we live our lives? Albert Einstein once said that “only a life lived for others is a life worth living.” Well, at least I think it was Einstein, but, honestly, there are many quotes falsely attributed to Einstein. Like Abraham Lincoln said, “Don’t believe everything you read on the internet.”
Whether Einstein actually said this or not, they are wise words. When I am feeling particularly blue, I often challenge my friends to do something special. Sometimes for a loved one or friend, and sometimes for strangers. Sometimes it’s as simple as an extra hug or kind word, or taking a moment to let somebody important in their life know how they have made a difference, or a random act of kindness.
But, you have to be careful as to the reason you are doing it. If you have expectations, then it’s an investment, not a gift. There is a line in the Bible that says something about casting your bread out on the water, and it will return to you tenfold. There are people who believe, and honestly expect, that if they are kind, if they make some kind of monetary charitable contribution, then it will come back to them tenfold. If you give ten dollars, in anticipation of getting a hundred back, then it’s not charity, but rather an investment, and a rather poor one at that.
I like the Beatles words in their song “The End”, when they said “And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.” Okay, I understand the sexual connotation of this, but I think of it a little more altruistically than this. I make love by doing something nice for others. I think of this as throwing love out there, and even if it does not come back to me personally, an unexpected kind act must propagate. Maybe not in the same way; maybe if I pay for coffee for the car behind me they’ll just drive off, but, they have to be a little bit happier, right? Even if they don’t “pay it forward”, it should (hopefully) put them in a better mood, and if it does, maybe they’ll be just a little bit kinder to the next person with whom they interact, which will put that person in a better mood. I’m sure the effect drops of quickly, but, don’t I make the world just a little bit happier when I do this?