A couple of months ago, I was driving home from work after a particularly rough day. It was the anniversary of my dad’s death, so I sang along to an old song my parents listened to when I was a little girl, belting it out through my tears. At a stop light, I glanced over, and noticed a minivan with another mom driving. A little girl sat in the front around my youngest daughter’s age, 13ish, and at least one more child in the back. The mom pointed at me while I sang my heart out, laughing while her children watched, also pointing and laughing, learning the exact behavior from their mother. Hurt and angry, I wanted to lash out at her, but I knew it would have only continued the cycle.
Instead, I smiled at the other mother through my tears, drove home and explained to my family what had happened. This was a teaching moment for everyone involved. My daughters were outraged. They thought I should have rolled my windows down and yelled at her or called her a bully. No, I explained. For some reason, she is teaching her children to be unkind. Somewhere along the way she was taught the same thing. So instead we need to work harder at spreading kindness. That’s our job. People who truly need our kindness are those who don’t always deserve it. Rather than spreading more hate, we need to be the example of kindness, even when someone isn’t always kind to us. My daughters were concerned people would not receive the message. I smiled. Those who are ready to it will.
My youngest daughter and I made a sign for my truck. It reads: If you don’t mind, please be kind. Have a nice day! My husband stapled it to a wooden plank, and I keep it behind my seat. I have been working on my manners when I drive. Instead of yelling at people, I have been practicing kindness. I realized that day more than anything, we are all an example to one another. We act as mirrors, and everything we do ripples out, touching more people than we realize. We have no idea how our behavior affects others, and as parents it is so important to teach our children kindness, forgiveness, and humility. I feel these qualities are essential in humanity.
I told my family day I could have emulated the same behavior to the other mother and her children, but would anything have changed? What would we have gained? Perhaps they learned nothing from me. Someone might.
My daughters were excited about the possibility of change, and seeing the spark in their eyes was enough. “How did they react when you smiled, Mom?”
I’m not sure, honey. I smiled, drove away, and never looked back. I smiled at my thirteen-year-old. I’d like to think she had second thoughts, and corrected her behavior. But from now on, we’ll have a sign to show them.
“Go out into the world today and love the people you meet. Let your presence light new light in the hearts of people.” -Mother Teresa