“Kindness begins with understanding we all struggle.” - Charles Glassman
The late Glen Campbell was a multi-award winner of both CMA and Grammy awards. He was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame and was the recipient of the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. When country music enthusiasts are asked to name their favorite Glen Campbell song, they quickly name “Rhinestone Cowboy,” “Wichita Lineman,” or “Gentle on My Mind.”
While Campbell became primarily associated with those songs throughout his 81 years of living, the song he was most partial to was an obscure song released in October 1969. It was a song that earned him no awards or accolades—though it did reach number 23 on the Billboard Hot 100. The song was “Try a Little Kindness.”
If you see your brother standing by the road
With a heavy load from the seeds he sowed
And if you see your sister falling by the way
Just stop and say, “You’re going the wrong way”
How many times do we do exactly what the first verse says? How many times do we see someone struggling and we offer sideline commentary of what they could be doing differently? Too often we act in a way that we think is helping but it really just adds to an already stressful situation. I call this surface level help.
Let’s paint a picture of when we thought we were helping, but really it was just a surface level effort that made us feel better as a person without really helping the person’s true need. A person is walking with their arms full. It’s a manageable, but heavy load. Kind of like the song says. As the person walks toward the door, you do a quick step in front of them and say, “Here, let me get that for you.”
The person gives you a thank you. You smile and say no problem. You are feeling good as you both go on your way. The other person still has the heavy load though. Sure, you got the door. But it was most likely a push to exit which the person could have pivoted and backed into with only barely missing a beat.
Going beyond surface level helping is asking to help carry the packages. Walking with the person to open a trunk or car door. It’s going above and beyond what it takes to just make you feel good. It’s something that lightens the load (literally in this example but figuratively overall).
There are many other examples of how you can expand your help beyond just surface level. And please don’t take this as the help you’re giving doesn’t count. This is all situational, only you can know what is beyond surface-level help. All I’m pointing out is that oftentimes we can dig a little deeper to help even more.
Don’t walk around the down and out
Lend a helping hand instead of doubt
And the kindness that you show every day
Will help someone along their way
In my post on January 24, I talked about how I felt when I was at my lowest. And those who knew my situation all of a sudden vanished. No calls. No texts. Nothing. What I would have given for someone to reach out and say, what can I do?
I can add humor to it. A character from Saturday Night Live, made popular by Rachel Dratch, was Debbie Downer. No matter the situation, Debbie Downer would bring the group down with her non-sequitur. And while what we do is a far cry from Debbie Downer, we unintentionally bring more gloom when we try to match the person’s mood.
I believe we do this because we struggle to actually display empathy or sympathy. It isn’t something we practice often so it doesn’t come as naturally as please or thank you. We cast more doubt when we have morose responses around those who are down. I think we misjudge how far kindness truly goes. Just as I believe we often misjudge what really constitutes kindness.
Listening is kindness. Not hearing words but actually listening and understanding. A simple act of kindness when someone is down and out is telling them that you may not know what they’re going through, but you are there to listen. Even if you have experienced something similar, listening means shutting your mouth and not interrupting. A majority of the time people who are down open up not to get feedback but to simply just get it out and off their chest.
This doesn’t just apply to people who are down. A simple text or note to let someone know you see them and the good they’re doing will move mountains. After my first blog was released on January 3rd, I received an outpouring of messages, emails, texts, and even a phone call from people who had no idea what was going on in my life. They were messages of support, strength, and encouragement. It was wind to my sails.
There is a reason the chorus of a song is often repeated two or three times. It carries the heart of the message being conveyed.
You’ve got to try a little kindness
Yes, show a little kindness
Just shine your light for everyone to see
And if you try a little kindness
Then you’ll overlook the blindness
Of narrow-minded people on the narrow-minded streets
It takes zero effort to be a kind person. It costs zero dollars to be a kind person. It takes little to no time to be a kind person. Even on our worst day, who are we to know that the person next to us isn’t having a worse day? Why should our problem take precedence over everything else that is happening in the world? In short, it shouldn’t. We need to be able to show kindness even on days when we know it is just a major accomplishment to get our feet on the ground and put the next foot forward.
We teach our children at a young age the words to “This Little Light of Mine.” A song that is sung in churches and various movements, it exclaims that we’re going to “let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.” In a world in which you can be anything you want, choose to shine your light and be kind. For there are many narrow-minded people out there, but your light can outshine them all.
“Try a Little Kindness” is not a complex song. You will not find it in a music course to have its lyrics broken down and dissected. I believe this is intentional. It is a simple song for a simple concept. Be kind.