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.


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From the archives


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16 thoughts on “Kindness, Civility, and a Little Respect”

  1. Thank you for that fab clip of Frasier: I landed on a fork had me roaring with laughter on a cold and bright morning.
    But, yes, I echo your sentiments. Fury and impatience are rife (I will admit to it but tend to do it in the privacy of my own home, rather than take it to the streets) and I try in my own way to counter it. What truly confounds me, however, is greed. Not just for too much food and drink and damned stuff, but for taking what you want, regardless. Not noticing other people because you are bound up with yourself. All of which is incivility. So when a knee-jerk nasty thought comes to me (and they do, all the time, but now I recognise them for what they are) I try to counter it with a more reasonable and generous idea. Sometimes, that is hard. I also pick up litter when I am out and about. Occasionally, when I am dogwalking, I pick up messes that others have simply ignored. Practising forbearance is very hard for me but I am working on it. At base, I do not want to align myself with the unhappy, frightened and puzzled people who cannot articulate their bewilderment or dissatisfaction with their lives. I am sure that is at the bottom of it all. I think about this a lot. Being more generous is my aim.

    1. I hear you… we spent too many years knowing that too much forbearance meant chaos in the classroom or the halls. I still find it hard to resist telling strangers what not to do in public. Ha. Perpetual hall duty! A teacher's purgatory.

  2. I love your story of the two car salesmen. And you’re so right about that lovely response from the one whose vehicle you did not buy. Your story reminds me a bit of what I went through recently with the realtor who helped me find my current apartment. The way she stepped in and stayed with me through our little adventure of two emergency rooms and urgent care was an act of extraordinary kindness. I believe there is a great deal of it in the world. We should give it more of the spotlight.

  3. Having just returned with my daughter from London and Dublin late last night, I can state the incivility is alive and well in those cities–on the sidewalks, in the stores and in museums. Groups walking four abreast on tiny sidewalks, not making any room for those of us walking single file but walking right into you. And the airports…someone please save me from folks who feel the need to rush past you to get on the same plane or race to Customs/Immigration on disembarking. I try hard not to return incivility, though I have been known to pass on a snarky comment or two (e.g. Calling out, 'Thank you' when someone drops a door in my face). Last night I was tired, up for almost 20 hours, two flights, landing at what my body thought was somewhere around 2 am and facing an 1.5 hour drive home (aka cranky), but I made sure, just as I had when I left the US, to thank the TSA person and the Customs Border Patrol folks for their service and tell them I hoped the stupidity would soon be over since they have all been forced to work without pay for more than 26 days due to the govt shutdown. They each reacted with a surprised look at first and then with smiles. I will remember the smiles…and try to continue to pass them on.

  4. The Frasier episode had me laughing out loud…I too miss that television series! The media seem to dwell on the negative and the rude. Society has some high profile individuals who are championing the rudeness movement but I will not give in to it…a smile and a courteous words go very far in life to make moments much more pleasant. Many people seem so wrapped up in their daily existence/technology that they can't find the energy required for kindness…hopefully kindness largely outweighs rudeness and it's just a case of not being able to see, read or hear about it. At least that is my fervent hope! Kindness can warm the heart like no other means….Cheers, Alayne

  5. Kindness and patience are so important. My son is furloughed and feeling hopeless knowing that if and when he ever gets back to work there will be 80 hour weeks to catch up. Thank heavens he and his wife have, we hope, enough savings to tide them over, although we stand ready to help. Several of his friends have gotten together to keep in contact and support him which has made all the difference. I have also been trying to actively support friends and students who are denigrated for being immigrants or children of immigrants since I see they have an increasing fear of being in public where they are asked "when are you going home." I really think there are more kind people in the world than rude and mean ones but the current climate makes it difficult to see.

  6. Sorry for the lengthy comment but this is a transatlantic kindness which will cheer your readers on both sides of the pond. Ten years ago, my nephew on graduating from Aberdeen University planned a 6 week road trip with a friend to drive along the West coast of USA down to San Francisco. Two weeks before they left, his friend broke his leg so Andrew decided to carry on with the trip on his own. After collecting an old car that a distant relative in Vancouver had lent him, his first 3 days were spent traveling down to Seattle. At the end of Day 3 he fell downstairs in a multi storey car park and broke his ankle. Luckily the car park attendants saw what had happened on cctv, arranged an ambulance, and gave them their mobile numbers in case he needed any further help. He had to wave his credit cards at the hospital, had his ankle put in a cast but was then stuck with what to do, and how to retrieve his car. He had not yet checked into a hostel and his luggage was in the car. When he called one of the car park attendants (both young and female) to ask if they could extend his term at the car park he ended up being collected from the hospital by them and staying in their apartment for a week as he sorted out the car, insurance, etc before the distant relative flew from Vancouver to collect him. They wanted no payment but were just happy for this bright red-haired young man to keep talking to them in that “cute Scottish accent”. When they visited the UK a couple of years later at the start of their European trip, they received endless hospitality from friends and relatives of Andrew in the UK, Spain, and Italy as we returned their kindnesses. I think we all have stories of kindnesses that have been done to us and that we have done to others but this one is still recounted at family gatherings and he has remained friends with both young women and attended their weddings !

  7. Oh, my gosh! I love the video! Your message is an excellent one too. It's easy to get out of sorts on these long cold winter days, but we always have a choice in how we respond. It's often little things that don't cost a cent that can brighten another's day.

  8. I'm with LPC, and have found the only antidote is to go out of my way to be kind. It's my own little form of resistance.

    I've come to believe that some people get a kind of high from being mean. (A little zing of adrenaline, maybe?) And I think it can be addictive. That's why I've stopped watching mean-spirited comics or other entertainment.

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