By Rachel Bolte
“Okay, now I’m going to need you to look away for just a second.” Tensing, I try my best not to flinch as I feel a poke in my arm, focusing instead on the “Why Donate Blood” brochure in my hand. The phlebotomist steps away, telling me to squeeze my hand every ten to fifteen seconds, and I relax. Even though I don’t love needles, even though it makes me feel slightly squeamish, even though I’d rather be sleeping in on my weekend morning, donating blood is important to me. Even though it makes me tired, even though I hate the smell of the antiseptic they rub on my arm, it’s all worth it. Because when I give blood, I get something even more vital in return: hope.
This hope answers a question that I try to live my life by: if it doesn’t cost you anything or cause you any harm and would make someone else’s life better, why wouldn’t you do it? Oftentimes, I find the answer to this question is “there’s no reason not to” – especially when it creates such rewarding feelings, like the knowledge that your actions have helped make the world a little bit better for someone else. Even though your every action might not save “up to three lives” like donating blood might, there is still incredible value in giving to each other everyday decency, sincere kindness, and thoughtfulness. Because there’s no reason not to hold the door for someone, show genuine appreciation when an employee helps you find something you’ve been searching for at the grocery store, or send someone a note or a text saying that you’re thinking of them.
But it’s not easy to hold onto this hope or look on the bright side of things. In the world that we live in, kindness falls far behind money, popularity, and material possessions. Self- involvement and pride obstruct thoughtful words and actions. Everything from unabating sadness and violence on the news to the wearing 9-to-5 routine augment stress, irritation, and vitriol — emotions that weigh us down, making it near impossible to stay optimistic.
In the face of this reality, against the tide of society’s instincts, we must actively choose to be decent, kind, and thoughtful. The choice to better your today – and tomorrow – is not often obvious: it is so easy to respond with anger to anger, frustration to frustration, sarcasm with sarcasm. But in the same way, kind actions beget kind actions: a simple “how are you today?” from a favorite teacher or a compliment on my outfit from a classmate can lift my mood, changing my whole day. Because they see — and point out — the good in the world, it’s easier for me to do so, consciously and unconsciously passing on the positivity they’ve created.
Whether we recognize it at work or not, this cycle of kindness creating kindness creating kindness is what creates a more optimistic outlook in ourselves, our communities, and our world. This might seem like a future viewed through rosy-hued glasses, but I’ve seen this very effect at work in my own life. As part of several service organizations plus a Leadership class, I have the opportunity to give back to my community on a regular basis. I’ve rung bells for the Salvation Army, read with kindergartners during summer school, packed “food backpacks” for students who experience food insecurity to take home over weekends and breaks, and donated blood. Each one of these has caused an uplifting in my own heart – an uplifting that I see reflected in my fellow volunteers’ faces and attitudes. Shifting our focus to helping people less fortunate than us shifts our mindset to one of generosity and service. We carry this change into the rest of our day, into our run-of-the-mill conversations with friends, siblings, teachers, and parents, slowly building an atmosphere that reflects the positive feelings associated with giving to others.
A quote from Maya Angelou perfectly encapsulates the necessity of optimism and kindness: “Nothing can dim the light which shines from within.” Our hope, kindness, optimism, decency, and thoughtfulness are the light – one that is undimmed by the world and strengthened by our dedication to our fellow people.