Be Kind, Change the World

A few weeks ago, I picked up We Need To Talk About Kevin from the library, on the recommendation of a friend.  I took it back today, 90% unread.  Over the past couple of weeks, I would pick it up, read half a page, and put it down again, upset and unnerved.  Upon telling him about it, my husband – like my friend’s husband – asked why I would ever want to read such a book.  The answer, as I took it back today, is that I don’t.

When tragedy strikes, some people take deep breaths and hug their children more than usual.  They think about the first time they were allowed to go to a movie by themselves, they think about how they take their good fortune, their family, their very lives for granted.  They vow to do something good for the world; sometimes they even follow through.

Other people, people I don’t like so much, use tragedy as a platform to politicize, or to push their own personal agenda, or – and this is the worst – to sell or market their own products.  As an example, I know someone who, the day after the tsunami in Japan, referred to the tragedy as Mother Nature unleashing her wrath about our collective mistreatment of the earth.  If that wasn’t enough, he then began touting his product that would counteract any negative effects from possible radiation exposure.  TELL ME MORE ABOUT THIS MIRACLE PRODUCT.

I think we can all agree that the days immediately following a tragedy are not appropriate for politics or – god forbid – sales.  

Fuck it.  I AM going to push my own agenda.  That is this: be kind.  Live the change you want to see. 

When I was pregnant, and due before my firstborn would be eighteen months old, I fretted to a girlfriend about the logistics of getting around with two very small children, especially with the long winter looming in front of me.  After giving me some practical advice in the areas of infant carriers and double strollers, she patted my arm and said “Don’t worry.  You’ll be amazed at how helpful perfect strangers can be.”

Her words turned out to be very true.  Countless doors were held open for me as I struggled with the heavy and awkward double stroller, and once someone helped me navigate that same stroller, impossibly stuck in the snow, through a slushy parking lot.  Strangers offered to return my grocery cart for me; they carried my takeout coffee to my car while I wrangled the little ones into their car seats.  A woman smiled at me and said I was doing a good job as I held back tears, holding a screaming, colicky infant in one arm and a tantruming toddler in the other.  Every single one of those acts was almost effortless for the givers, but for me they would change my day; each act was a gift to me, a beam of sunshine in what I would later recognize as one of the most difficult periods of my life, that first winter that I was an exhausted and overwhelmed mother of two children under age two.

All these years later, I remember those moments perfectly.  Those gifts of compassion and kindness inspire me every day to look with compassion and kindness on the world.  There is so much sadness and anger in the world, but we all have the power of choice.  We can all make a choice to make someone’s day a little brighter, with a smile or a hug, an encouraging email or phone call, a kind word or a compliment. 

There is a tenet in yoga called ahimsa, which literally means non-violence or non-harming and stems from the belief that all living things are connected.  I believe this is true and I believe that we all have a responsibility toward each other, to treat each other with kindness, to spread positivity and good energy.  Think of the amazing power in that!  A small gift of compassion can have a snowball effect; one person truly can change the world for the better.

In light of the tragedy in Aurora, remember this: the best way to deal with terrible tragedy is to do something good for the world.  Start with yourself.  Be kind.  Be well.  xo  


  1. Excellent post! I don’t know of the book that you speak of at the beginning but I am thankful that your distaste of it inspired you to write such peaceful and compassionate words.

  2. I’m less offended by people who politicize hot button issues, (ie the shooting in Aurora) than I am by people who are completely unconnected to a tragic event and yet make a public spectacle of THEIR grief and THEIR pain and THEIR reaction, be it on-line or IRL. It’s disrespectful to people who are truly grieving for the death of suffering of their loved ones. I recall photos of women gathered outside the home of John F Kennedy Junior, sobbing and lighting candles and carrying on and loving the attention and validation even though they never knew the man. And this tendency has only gotten worse since the advent of social media. Appreciate all that you have, and don’t borrow grief and sorrow from others.

  3. BusyMomofTwins says

    A beautifully written post. So very true. There is nothing more important than to be kind to ourselves, and others, especially perfect strangers.

    Not to push an agenda, but to offer a recommendation if you are looking for some great reads that focus on this very issue. I would highly recommend

    I have read both and truly love the message.

  4. And you know what? You are one of the kindest, most positive and encouraging person I’ve met online or off. So you’re setting a fantastic example for people to be and do better.

  5. Yes to this post and YES to Nan’s comment – I call it ‘borrowing other people’s tragedy’, but ‘tragedy whores’ is much more succinct and accurate. Of course we’re sad about it, but it’s not our tragedy. And even though I go on about how working retail has crushed my faith in most of humanity and I have a strong tendency to snark, I have experienced many random acts of kindness by strangers. So yes.

  6. Taryn Montgomery says

    I think this article is an interesting comment on “politicizing” a tragedy. It even sparked some coherent discourse on the subject in the “comments” section (which is not always present in articles on this particular site – Thanks for your positive thoughts on a sad day.

  7. So, so true. It’s just as easy to help the mom in the store as it is to say, “Well, you sure have your hands full!”

  8. Anonymous says

    Beautifully said, Nicole. Thank you.

  9. It’s always nice when a complete stranger offers kindness.

  10. Great post – so very well said. I got tears in my eyes – the kindness of strangers is always so moving to me. I struggle to teach the kids that it’s better to be the better person – hopefully it will sink in someday.

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