The other day I went for a walk on the greenway near my house. It’s a lovely paved walking/biking/running trail that follows Nashville’s Cumberland River and I have been an avid walker on it for the 14 years we’ve lived in Nashville.
Back when I first started walking the greenway, it was a lot like my East Nashville neighborhood, at large – friendly….neighborly.
Nearly everyone I passed back in those days would make eye contact and say hello. Bikers had the courtesy to say “On your left” when passing.
But then something changed.
As time went gone on, as my city and neighborhood experienced unparalleled growth, change and gentrification, the culture shifted. People stopped waving from their porches as you strolled by in the evening. New neighbors have stayEd more anonymous, fences were erected more quickly. It seems that this new grace-deprived cultural trend has spread to all facets of life. And it was that shift that I noticed on the greenway that day. As hard I tried to say hello to other walkers or joggers, most didn’t even look me in the eye.
I have to say I was a little miffed to be honest, not because people didn’t say hello, although that’s disappointing, but because the bikers speeding along trails no longer even communicated with their fellow pedestrians when they passed. Beyond not-nice, It created a potentially dangerous situation and frankly, was against the rules of the greenway.
I went home that day thinking “Something needs to be done…maybe the park law enforcement should be alerted. Can they even give people on bikes tickets?”. As I ruminated, the solution suddenly it dawned on me. Punishing people wasn’t the answer.
Creating a new culture was.
See, how we live and love and function in community is by-in-large, a product of the culture that has been cultivated. If every bike on the greenway that passes you says “on your left”, most likely, you will begin extending that same courtesy.
Another example. I’ve been an Aldi shopper for a long time now. Aldi is a somewhat different kind of grocery in that they keep a very low overhead. You are charged for grocery bags, which encourages most people to bring their own recyclable cloth bags, and there are no ‘baggers’ at checkout. Customers bag their own groceries in a designated area after paying. All of this helps keep prices much lower and the store running smoothly.
Because there are no baggers, the perception might be that lines are slow and long. On the contrary however, checkout at Aldi is actually faster than a typical grocery store. But the interesting thing is that, for as long as I’ve been going to Aldi, because of the culture that’s been created, if you are standing in line with just a few items, and the person in front of you has a cart piled high with items, 9 times out of 10, that person will kindly let you go ahead of them. At first this was frankly a new concept to me. I’ve always seen grocery store lines as survival of the fittest, but over time, the Aldi culture has taught me to always let others with fewer items go ahead of me.
I’m telling you, culture is powerful stuff. When that culture is one of kindness, that’s when people become transformed. That’s when they can unite, despite their differences and get things done.
Yesterday, I was at Aldi once again. I finished checking out and was bagging my groceries when the stranger that had been in line behind me, approached with a just-purchased bunch of fresh cut flowers. He explained that a lot of crazy stuff is going on in the world right now and he believes in doing random acts of kindness. With that, he handed me the flowers.
Here I am, a homeschooling mother of two little ones, out grocery shopping on a Thursday afternoon – partially just for the occasion to see the light of day, definitely feeling weighted down by the recent events going on in our country. And honestly, not so much weighted down by our government or our president or the strangeness that’s ensued, but because of the way that the people of our country have handled this adversity. I’ve been so discouraged as I’ve watched every news story trigger a rash of rampant finger-pointing, ugliness and the blind assumptions we make about each other under the stress of our assumed powerlessness.
In the face of these ‘accusations via assumption’, I admit that I’d fallen victim to this ugly bitterness that had developed all around and inside me.
But then a stranger stuck a bouquet of completely undeserved flowers in my hand. My first thought was honestly “Don’t you want to know if I agree with you politically first? Don’t you want to know if our religious beliefs align?” But I didn’t need to ask because the answer was already no. He wanted to show light and kindness to me simply because I was a human and I have struggles just like he and everyone else does. It’s as simple and as beautiful as that.
And in just that moment, because of one man’s act of kindness, the cultural pavement around me shifted. Suddenly everyone around me seemed a little kinder and a little more human.
What if THAT kind of culture caught on like wildfire?
A culture of kindness instead of accusation.
A culture of benefit-of-the-doubt instead of anger.
A culture of unification instead of division.
Look, nobody ever changed someone’s heart or mind by pointing a finger at them and calling them stupid. So let’s try another way.
So let’s put our differences and our anger and our vitriol aside. Let’s work toward a culture of kindness and THEN see what we can get done.