Let me share with you some personal encounters that I’ve had this year.
It is 2017, and my New Year’s resolution was a simple one: it was a promise to myself that I would try to be a kinder person. Perhaps it was a sign of approaching my mid-twenties? Being honest with myself and looking introspectively, I could see how the paradigms of my personal goals were shifting from materialistic fantasies; to becoming a well rounded person (in my own eyes.)
Sometime around the first week of January, I stumbled across a monk in a bookstore. He was a tall, well built man, with long, matted dreadlocks, wearing saffron robes, a long silver beard, and an immature cataract in one eye. I apologized for tripping over him (blaming my cell phone for distracting me by buzzing every two seconds) and before long we were having a conversation about everything under the sun. Ranging from how technology had overpowered our lives; to the futility of man’s ambition; his personal transformation from a computer engineer to a traveling monk; the wide economic inequality that exists in India; corruption in the healthcare sector; and everyday struggles with our own emotions.
I was always one of those people who was never interested in chatting with strangers. But this time I made an honest effort to appreciate the human soul that resides in this person. I decided to give him a chance and really get to know him.
What I realized is that we often underestimate how much joy we can give a person through the simple act of showing genuine interest in them and what they have to say. Even though temporarily, the loneliness in his eyes was replaced with rapturous excitement. Before long, his happiness was infectious and I felt instantly connected to this person who was a stranger just a few minutes ago. We exchanged numbers and promised to stay in touch.
I ran this social experiment a few other times, and found that by being a genuine listener, I was making more real connections with people and leaving with a sense of actually having something in common with them, which was new to me.
Weeks passed, and one afternoon, I received a call from Swamiji (as I call him with reverence although he insists I call him Venky his pet name). He told me he was very sick… The extensive traveling had left him severely dehydrated, plus he was battling a severe stomach infection in a hospital in Kerala, India. His voice collapsed into tears in mid conversation as he told me how he was so overjoyed for having met me. He spoke of meeting hundreds of people every day, but it was not often that people stopped by to be nice to him; which left him with a sense of loneliness even amidst a crowd.
He spoke of his son, the only person in his family that he was still in touch with. But even his son grew apart from him as he became an adult. I gave him encouragement about his ailing condition, told him to ‘stay strong’, and that I would pray for his speedy recovery, as I hung up the phone.
That day, I pondered over the potential that we all have in ourselves to better the lives of people around us. We are superheroes without capes, and our greatest superpower is our willingness to offer our services in the forms of kindness, patience and interest in our fellow humans. You really don’t need to be a Bill Gates, or the next Mother Teresa, just once in a while, stop and smell the roses. Here, the roses are the people around you, each unique, each with their own stories, struggles, passions, and demons.
Trust me, they will appreciate your presence in their lives.
The second social experiment in the kindness protocol was that I would appreciate more than criticize, and criticize in a respectful and understanding manner.
Since I live with my parents, I always found myself butting heads with them several times a day. I often criticized my mom for being too controlling and judgmental, and my dad for not being a good listener. This year, sticking to my resolution, I decided to be a little innovative. With Dad, every time we were spending time together, and he started “zoning out”, I would resist getting irritable and resentful, and instead I would crack jokes about what a poor attention span he had and poke him in his stomach every time he stopped listening to me. Over time, it finally registered to him, and he became a much more mindful person.
With mom, I started consciously giving her more compliments and appreciation on a daily basis, and this grew on her to the point where she saw herself as a good person in my eyes, and automatically became a kinder and understanding mother as she didn’t want to ruin the image I had about her.
I realized that when you make people feel good about themselves (in your presence) they will be nicer to you. Criticizing a person and expecting them to change is perhaps the most counterproductive thing to do.
So, as you saw, a simple change in the way I dealt with people, and yet so many positive repercussions in just a matter of a month. I can’t wait to see the impact of this over this year and many years to come.
Prarthana Bhat Pseudo-nerd, medical student, aspiring writer, person.
More recently, a compulsive Quora user.
I believe in laughter, learning, humanity, happiness, and having a sense of humor.
I try to update my Quora blog whenever I can-
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D R E A M