Stranger Kindness

Last summer, I invited our congregation to participate in a kindness challenge.  I said, “Approach strangers and ask, ‘Is there anything I can do or say to help you have a better day?’

Since I encouraged the congregation to engage in this practice, I thought I should give it a try as well.  Not that I wanted to.  At all.  I had many concerns.  I’m reclusive by nature.   I was afraid people would think I was weird.  Or even worse, people would ask me to give something beyond my capacity to give – and then I would feel like a disappointment when I couldn’t deliver.

I often tell people to serve beyond their comfort zone though, so I decided to give the Stranger Kindness question a try.  

The first person I asked, the manager of a store I often visit after hiking, replied “I have a hangover.  Can you help?”  I thought back to my wilder days, back when hangover cures were a topic.  I was just about to say, “Maybe go to Denny’s and have some seriously greasy food?”  But the manager disrupted my suggestion when he told me about the party he attended the night before.  It was a celebration for his daughter’s college graduation.  His smile came alive when he spoke of her.

There was nothing to change, nothing to fix – only connection and shared joy.

The next person I approached worked at Starbucks.  I asked the question as he took my order for iced tea.  He said, “I’m studying to become an EMT.  I just want someone to tell me I can do it.”

I believe in you,” I said.  “You’re clearly a wonderful person and I know you’ll make a great EMT.  Hang in there.  You’ve got this!”

Both of our days were brightened by the heart surge, inspired by a simple question.

My favorite story about this kindness challenge wasn’t instigated by me.  Mary, one of our congregants also went to Starbucks to ask the question.  When Mary entered, she noticed the barista taking orders was professional and friendly in a well-trained way.  Mary ordered her tea and then asked  “Is there anything I can do or say to help you have a better day?

The barista started to say no, but then she said, “You know what?  I’d really like to meet a man.  I’m not picky.  I just want him to have teeth.”

Had I been there, I might have panicked, thinking “Oh wow, how can I manifest a toothy man right now?”

Mary gave the perfect response.

“I’ll hold that in prayer for you,” she said.

When Mary left Starbucks, she noticed that the barista’s demeanor had changed.  Her superficial polish was replaced by deep delight.  She glowed.  Perhaps hope created the glow.  Not only hope for a man with teeth; but hope found in the kindness of strangers – the kindness that connects and inspires us to serve one another in infinitely creative ways.

If you want your life to be a party of goodwill, you might want to try this practice.  Ask strangers, “What can I do or say to help you have a better day?”  Then stand by, ready to touch the hem of what matters most.  

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In my last post about kindness and car salesmen, I wrote about the Third Force, the mystical reconciling power that helped me stay peaceful during the purchase of a Prius.  When I surrendered to something greater than my wary reluctance, the car-buying experience was infused with loving kindness.

Surrendering to the Third Force offers win/win outcomes for all involved, even if only one person in a conflict is aware of and cooperating with the principle. 

But how exactly do we surrender?  In a culture that conditions us to be right…to assertively state our needs… to take action to get our needs met…is it even possible to submit to an unseen, unknown, infinite mystical power of reconciliation?

One of the things I recommend is P.R.A.Y.

P is for Pause – When an unrelenting opinion, the need to be right, or other destructive energy obliterates our normally good intentions, it is often helpful to step back, take a breath, and pause.  In the power of the pause, we notice our reaction.  Our reaction is a habit based on our tiny “relative” perspective.  In truth, we live in the realm of the Absolute.  A Pause helps us remember and opens us to possibilities beyond our conditioned responses.

R is for Respect – We start with a pause.  Then we need the willingness to let go of our practiced stance and see anew.   Respect invites newness.  The word respect means “re-speculate” or see again.  We practice respect when we see the perspective of another through new eyes.  We see how their perspective matters, how it feels like reality to them, just like our perspective feels like reality to us.  Respect asks, “Help me to see this person or situation differently,” knowing that there is always more than one available view.

A is for Appreciate – Once we loosen our grip on our view as the only view, we can appreciate.  The Third Force lends us this paradox:  in the Absolute, opposition is not against us.  Opposition exists “for” us – for our greater awakening.   When we appreciate, we see that whatever happens is for our growth, our deepening, our evolving spiritual maturity.  We gracefully anticipate that something wonderful will be born through the appearance of opposition.

Y is for Yearn – Our appreciation invites yearning, that is yearning for the newness that will inevitably arise through our graceful surrender to the Third Force.  To paraphrase the 42nd Psalm – “As the deer longs for water, so doth my soul long for God.”  My soul yearns for reconciliation, a win-win, the perception of Wholeness in every being, and an experience of Absolute Reality.

So that’s it, that’s what works for me and for members of our beautiful congregation.  It’s not always easy, but it is simple.  Pause, Respect, Appreciate, and Yearn — and life blooms in Full partnership with the Divine.

What helps you surrender and/or stay open to reconciling possibilities?  



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You Don’t Have to Feel Small

Brother Hoss in His New Prius Prime

One reason I drove my Honda for 235,000 miles:  I didn’t want to endure the process of buying a car, even if it was The Kindest Choice.

In the past, I have felt manipulated and taken advantage of by salesmen.   Car buying has always felt like a win/lose situation.  I was once mocked by a salesman for wanting a green car when he only had red.  It wasn’t about me, but it still hurt my feelings.

I’ve responded to car-haggling with belligerence.  Then I manage to feel guilty no matter what – guilty for spending too much; guilty for being snarky; and guilty for spending too little and ruining the salesman’s day.

All in all, buying a car was a no-win situation that made me feel small….


This time, even though I worked with an alleged haggle-free program I thought a haggle or two might sneak into the exchange.  If it did, I was determined to turn my no-win into our win-win.

At our Center, we work with a principle called the Third Force.  The basic premise is two opposing forces exist in many interactions.  Rather than dig into one side or another, we can hold the dynamic tension of the two forces and patiently wait for the reconciling force – the third – to create something entirely new.  This new thing is beyond compromise.  It is a win/win for both parties.

So I entered the car purchase situation with an awareness of the two forces: I knew that the salesman’s force would silently bellow “spend money,” and my force would plead “save money.”

I acknowledged these opposing truths and held space for  a greater unknown.  It was clear that spaciousness and the room for something new, would arise through the practice of mindful kindness.

Kindness disarmed my angst and defensiveness.  Kindness was the Third Force.

I got to know Brad, my salesman, during the test drive.  I learned about his family.  I unguarded my heart as I moved from defensiveness into admiration.  He wasn’t against me.  He wasn’t trying to take something from me.  He was just a guy yearning to be a good provider for his wife and kids.  I sincerely wanted to support his noble intentions.

When Brad and his manager presented me with a list of costly ad-ons, I responded with a phrase that seemed to puzzle them.  Perhaps it has never been uttered in a car dealership: “I will take these numbers home and meditate on them.”  They couldn’t argue with that.

At home, I did the math, then presented them with a respectful email containing an excel spreadsheet that indicated my desires compared to theirs.  I gently stated, “I would love to be able to purchase all the features you’re offering, but here’s what I feel is a responsible choice for me.”  Again, no arguing, only an opening for agreement.

I think we all did well; I think we all left the exchange happy and satisfied.

What was the “something new” created by the Third Force?  The best part for me was feeling like I transcended old patterns.  I had been fair and kind.  Everyone was respectful.  And I wondered where else I can move from default defensiveness to kindness?

How about you?  Have you had success in situations like this; or is there a place where you can apply these principles and see what win/win unfolds?   

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