Saturday, June 25, 2016

Kindness is free -- don't be afraid to share it

From today's Briefing:

The young man behind the front desk grimaces as we approach.

“Good morning,” my traveling companion initiates, despite all signs that this hotel employee currently harbors little hospitality. “Rough day already?”

He imperceptibly nods.

Julie smiles with sympathy and cautiously presses on, questioning some charges on the room bill. He mumbles an apology, calculates the correct total and hands over a new copy — all without making eye contact.

“Thank you,” she says, not a hint of irony or insincerity in her voice.

We walk away and whisper hopes that this fellow turns his attitude around before the onslaught of guests checking out. We fear that his bad day is about to get much worse.

Though I wasn’t surprised that my friend of 14 years was courteous when others might be haughty, I was touched by her gentle handling in the face of faulty customer service.

Kindness is free, like all the virtues, yet sometimes we hoard it as if we fear we’ll run out. Of course, kindness, like all the virtues multiples when lavished freely.

We witness it all the time. A teenager holds the door open for a line of people, and they nod, smile, say thank you, continuing the day with appreciation for good manners. A child at the park falls down, and three moms rush to the scene to comfort and help.

A madman murders 49 innocent people, and thousands of people line up for hours to donate blood to help the victims still alive. People serve food and water to responders and members of the media. Generous folks from around the country and world donate millions of dollars to support victims and their families. We embrace our children and whisper in their ears, “I love you. I’m glad you are safe. Be kind to others.”

In the face of adversity, it’s unadulterated kindness that soothes the soul.

Yet there are moments when we forget to be kind. We are irritated by perceived slights. We interpret benign comments with malicious intent. We insist that our opinion is the only right way, that our need to be heard trumps everyone else’s need to be understood or even loved.

It’s the end of our girlfriends’ getaway to Santa Fe. The four of us moms, exhausted in a good way from hiking and window-shopping and eating, are on a plane headed to Dallas.

One of the flight attendants begins the usual spiel about exit rows and tray tables, electronic devices and oxygen masks. What’s unusual is her halting, nervous speech. At times she stops altogether, and we can barely hear another attendant prompting with the correct words.

She finishes the script with a tinge of relief in her voice. There’s a pause. Then another voice fills the cabin, informing us that on this flight is a training attendant, who is learning procedures, including how to deliver the pre-flight announcement. We just heard her first attempt.

The entire cabins breaks out into applause, affirming the trainee’s efforts. She walks down the aisle waving and bowing, her nervousness dissipating with every step.

A whole plane full of weary travelers lavished kindness on a stranger. It cost us nothing. And maybe she banked some of those accolades in her heart, to cash in on a future rough day.

Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Celebrate more than just straight A's

From today's Briefing:

The morning of Katie’s fifth-grade celebration, she stood on stage beneath a congratulations banner, threw her arms in the air and beamed.
Hours later, as I studied a photo of my exuberant 10-year-old, I realized that she had reached a goal that’s gone unspoken but should have been a top priority.
She finished the year — all of elementary school, actually — with a cheerful spirit, strong self-confidence and emotional stability. What more could I ask for?
This is the time of year when families celebrate perfect attendance and straight A’s, the Dean’s List and outstanding (fill in the blank) student. Those are all worth celebration, for sure, but there’s no certificate (nor does there need to be) for what really counts: peace with yourself for who you are and what you stand for.
It’s taken me years to fully understand.
When Cooper started the third grade, his daddy was very ill and under care of hospice. I met with his teacher to talk about our expectations for the school year. I didn’t care about his grades, I told her. For this year, the goal was for Cooper to finish with strong emotional health. Academics were secondary.
Steve died two weeks after the school year began. Cooper missed one day of school before returning to class. Over the next nine months, he visited with the school counselor regularly and received grief therapy from our hospice agency.
The year was tough, no doubt. There were many angst-ridden days and tearful nights. But he ended third grade as a well-adjusted, mostly joyful 8-year-old.
After we endured that first grief-heavy year, my school-year goals returned to normal. Try your best. Work hard. Learn every day, and show what you’ve learned as completely as you can.
I didn’t exactly define success as hitting the All-A Honor Roll every grading period, but I encouraged my children to work toward an A average in every class.
My school-related questions have mostly been academic all these years: Have you studied enough? How was the test? What grades did you get back today?
I regret that I haven’t asked as often: Are you enjoying this class? What are your goals? How are you defining success?
I also regret that I haven’t started every school year with the same goal, with or without crisis: to finish with strong emotional health.
The good news is they’ve managed.
Cooper is not at the top of his class, though he works harder than any child I know. He takes challenging courses for the content (not the extra GPA points) and revels in learning. He’s not defeated by a few B averages. He enjoys school, extracurricular activities and his peers.
Katie constantly volunteers to help others. She embraces new experiences and welcomes newcomers to her routines. She pays little attention to what’s popular and instead holds fast to her beliefs and values.
Will they fulfill their potential? Where will they go to college? What kind of careers will they pursue?
Those questions are secondary to the biggest questions: Will they seek joy in all circumstances? Will they stand firm in their beliefs? Will they finish each journey with raised arms and radiant smiles?
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at