Nicole J. Phillips
When Mr. Rogers was a boy and terrible things would happen around the world, his mom would tell him to look for the helpers. Instead of focusing on the destruction, she encouraged him to look for the good — for those people who were moving forward in kindness. Fred Rogers took that message with him into adulthood where he shared it with the world during his nearly 40 years as our favorite friend in "Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood." He hung up his sweater for the final time in 2001, but his message lives on. Thank goodness, because we might need it now more than ever.
When I first married my husband, he bought me a book called "Basketball for Dummies." He was an assistant men's college basketball coach at the time. I was more interested in the team's colors and cute apparel than in what was happening on the court. We clearly had some work to do. I asked him to buy me the book for Christmas. I read it cover to cover. I still don't know beans about basketball. I figured that would be the only sport that I'd really have to pay attention to. I could fake interest at an occasional Super Bowl party. Then came my boys.
I wonder sometimes about the messages I send even when I am completely unaware. I have been known to roll my eyes and huff at my youngest son, "Can you please remember to bus your own spot after dinner this time?" I wonder if I am secretly saying to him, "You can't remember to do anything." The thought is sobering and if I let my mind wander down that rabbit hole, it will scare me away from parenting for good. I'll be curled up in a ball in my bed letting someone else, someone less likely to ruin them, take over.
A few weeks ago, I posed a question about the difference between helping others because it's the "right thing to do" or because you want to do an act of kindness. I've already published some answers in this column, but I received one more letter in the mail that I couldn't let go before sharing with you. It's from Jean Lemmon in Fergus Falls, Minn. "'Where does citizenship end and kindness begin?' The two actions derive their source from two different areas, the head and the heart.
I walked into the gas station with my debit card in hand. "Hi! I had fuel on pump one." The young woman behind the counter looked at her register and then looked at me. "Which pump?" "Pump one." Again she looked at her screen, this time with a confused little arch to her eyebrow. "I'm sorry, but there's no balance on pump one. It's been paid." The lady next to her behind the counter leaned over to take a look. "Yep, it's been paid." A short pause came next, followed by an "Uh oh."
FARGO — If someone tells you to "go fly a kite," you can pretty much assume he or she is not leading with kindness and a future get-together is not in the works. Much like the phrases "bug off" or "take a hike," the origin of "go fly a kite" is a little hazy. Some people believe it came from the stock market crash of 1929, when little pieces of paper were tossed out the window. Others believe it had something to do with a conversation between Benjamin Franklin and his wife.
Taryn Skees is a mom just like me. She's a writer and a speaker who is passionate about the power of kindness. But Taryn's drive to spread the message of kindness didn't come from a spontaneous act of kindness that transformed her life. It came from the birth of her son. Taryn's 9-year-old son, Aiden, has a rare craniofacial condition called Apert syndrome. He is one in 160,000, which Taryn knows makes him awfully special.
FARGO — Last week I posed a question that had come across my desk from a Fargo mail carrier. He asked, "Where does citizenship end and kindness begin?" His job often puts him in positions where he feels compelled to help. A lost cell phone, a wandering child or an emergency that requires a call to 911. We are taught to be nice and neighborly and do the right thing. So is that kindness? Or does kindness require an extra step? Here are some thoughts from readers sent in over the past week: Teresa said she would like to be called a "kind citizen."
You know what I just realized? I do not know the name of the woman who delivers my mail. Usually my mail carrier just leaves the letters in the box by the road and eventually I wander out and collect them. But every few months, she pulls her truck into my driveway and hops out to hand me a package or a post-vacation bundle of mail. I always smile and say thank you, but in the three years that we've lived in this house, I never once thought to ask her name.
Children's hearts are precious. They love big, forgive quickly and are incredible readers of the emotions around them. Sort of like a magnet, they attract the feelings of others and wear them as their own. Sometimes that's good and sometimes that's bad. It can be bad when it locks up the mind in fear and confusion, but it's incredibly beautiful when it opens the door to compassion and understanding.