A new year of kindness

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It always feels odd starting a new year starting in the bleak of mid-winter, when all around feels cold, lifeless or dormant. In the midst of a deep freeze, it’s hard to feel it as a time of renewal or rejuvenation, or be energized to make and follow through on New Year’s resolutions. But one change we can enact today or any day, which carries a lasting impact, is to treat our fellow beings with more kindness and respect.

I was on the subway recently and nearby, a disheveled looking man in worn-out clothing was hunched over in his seat, reposing. Many moved away or kept their distance, but one man across the aisle reached over, tapped him on the shoulder and handed him a pair of work gloves, apologizing that they weren’t better gloves, but that they would at least help keep his hands warm. The recipient thanked him, put them on his hands and resumed his slumber.

 I smiled at the man for his kind and spontaneous act, which I found to be very moving. It also served as an important reminder that it is up to us to decide how we view and interact with one another, especially the vulnerable people we encounter in public spaces. We can choose to look away or instead, we can see in them as we might be one day ourselves, in a precarious situation in need of help.

I don’t have solutions for the issues faced by many of these people. But what I do have is an ability to alter my perspective and behaviour. I’ve taken to carrying around extra granola bars in my backpack and often when I encounter someone on the street or in the subway asking for money, I ask if they’d like something to eat and if they say yes, I hand them a bar. Sometimes I chat for a minute and other times, it’s just a brief exchange. But the look in their eyes always says the same thing – thank you for acknowledging me as a human being.

In the depths of winter, when many of us are at our lowest, as well as grappling with the darkness and cold, it’s worth remembering and acknowledging that we all struggle in different ways. Our shared problems and challenges are one of the main things that unite us. Let us at least begin the year by opening up our hearts more to show greater kindness, compassion and respect to one another, to see the humanity in others that we cherish in ourselves.