It’s January. For those of us who live in the northern hemisphere, that means winter. And for those of us who live in the north of the northern hemisphere, that means lots of darkness, and cold, and whatever precipitation our changing climate wants to throw at us. Winter can be tough, even for those of us who mostly like winter, and who try to get outside as much as we can, believing that getting out in the weather, whatever that weather is, is good for us.
But when the weather really sucks, it’s dark by mid-afternoon, the snow is blowing sideways, and there’s no skiing, or walking, or even driving, unless totally necessary… you know what can make those days even more difficult? Crabby, snappy, short-tempered people, that’s what. Rude people who think that rules and signs aren’t for them. Selfish people who think that their needs are paramount, their opinion the only one that matters, and their time much too valuable to stand in line… like the rest of us. I could go on, but I won’t.
|#iceroadcommute by Krista Burpee-Buell|
It seems everywhere we look these days there is more and more rudeness and incivility, and less and less kindness and respectful behaviour. Psychologists say that rude and uncivil behaviour is contagious, that exposure to rudeness and insults lowers our capacity for impulse control, and we are more likely to strike back, or pass the behaviour on to other people, making the behaviour, in fact, contagious. Experts also say that the disrespectful behaviour of those in power gives those without power the license to behave the same way, and the bad behaviour is repeated. It’s called modelling. Add to that the opportunity for the bad actor to distance themselves from their behaviour by making these comments on-line, and we probably are in full-on epidemic mode. An epidemic of behaviour that, if we were five years old, would be punishable by being sent to our room, or at the very least given a time-out on the naughty step.
But the good news is that the opposite behaviour is just as contagious. Kindness, respectful treatment of others, civil tones, and politeness are just as catching as bad behaviour. And… and we’re not only being helpful to those to whom we extend kindness, we’re also helping ourselves. Apparently extending kindness makes us healthier, happier, and is even reputed to slow the aging process. Doing good elevates our dopamine levels, creating what psychologists call a “helper’s high.” According to Dr. David Hamilton, PhD in Organic Chemistry, acts of kindness create a feeling of “emotional warmth” in us, which produces a hormone called oxytocin in our bodies, which in turn releases nitric oxide, which dilates blood vessels and can lower blood pressure. Oxytocin also reduces the levels of free radicals and inflammation in our cardiovascular system. So being kind to others is the same as being kind to ourselves. Win, win.
I read a post on Instagram the other day, which resonated with me. A woman described how she had answered her door that morning to a couple of missionaries from one religion or another, it doesn’t matter which one. She said she told them “religion wasn’t her thing,” and afterward they chatted pleasantly for a few minutes. When the couple left, the female missionary turned back, smiled, and thanked her for her kindness. For presumably NOT slamming the door in their faces, as a room mate once advised me to do when an elderly lady came to our door delivering copies of “The Watchtower.” The Instagrammer said that the lady’s smile had stayed with her all day. I love that story.
You know, when you think about it there are people all over who are being kind. Just going about their day being civil, and patient, and respectful. Just before Christmas I bought a new car. I did my research thoroughly; I knew what I wanted, and eventually narrowed my choices down to two different vehicles. Then I test-drove each of them at least three times. Back and forth Hubby and I went between the two dealerships. I can’t tell you how patient both of the salesmen were with me. I smile when I think of all the chit chat on those test-drives between Hubby in the passenger seat and one or the other of those salesmen in the back. One is a fairly recent immigrant to Canada; Hubby knew his whole story before we were through. The other is a young man who’d attended the school where I taught; he and Hubby traded hockey stories while I focused on the driving. When I finally made my choice, I texted the salesman at the other dealership that I was sorry, but we’d decided to go with his competitor. He responded: “No worries. Congratulations on your new car.” What a lovely response, eh? I have both their business cards in my wallet. If you need a trustworthy, polite, and patient car salesman, just let me know.
|Evening commute through Kingsclear, New Brunswick by Krista Burpee-Buell|
Winter can be beautiful. It can also be hell. The winter shots in this post were taken by my niece Krista who lives outside of Fredericton, New Brunswick. Snowfall after snowfall, plus high winds blowing snow across farm fields and then across country roads can make her rural commute treacherous. Krista’s pictures remind me of my own morning commute over the years. Of snowstorms, black ice, and traffic jams. I’d be swathed in a scarf and a heavy down coat, the car’s heater on overdrive to de-ice the windshield, and the usual forty minute drive taking an hour and a half. All the while I’d be stressing that I’d be late and thirty grade nines would run rampant without a teacher while I sat in traffic. Just thinking of that makes me glad I’m retired.
And you know, since winter can be so stressful on its own, maybe we all need to be extra polite, a bit more patient, and a little more kind to each other.
Consider the girl who works a fast-food drive-through window near you, who has to take payment and hand out hot food and coffee all the while freezing her butt off. Maybe we need to be a bit more cheery to her next time. Ask her how she’s handling the cold. Tell her that she’s doing a great job. Or the pharmacist at a local drugstore who, when you take a second to look more closely, appears to be all on her own, handling doctor phone calls, dispensing prescription medication, coming out from behind the counter to help an elderly customer choose a cough syrup, then giving you your flu shot. Maybe you need to tell her not to rush, you know she’s busy, you know she’s doing her best.
Maybe we all need to be sure that we’re not one of those crabby, snappy, selfish, “I’m the only one who matters” people who make winter seem colder and longer. Maybe as well as a flu shot, we need a vaccine for rude, selfish behaviour, to stop the spread of the contagion.
Or we could just try to be kind. For everyone’s sake. Even our own.
Have a look at this clip from one of my all time favourite television shows. Frasier gives a lesson in civility. Gosh I miss that show.
Now how about you my friends? Any stories of small acts of kindness you want to share? Go ahead… make us all feel a little warmer.