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Taking note: Kindness is key

EDITOR’S NOTE: This column originally ran in the March 14 edition of The Mining Journal.

We all endure challenges and hardships that we don’t share with others. Sometimes because we feel ashamed of our struggles. Sometimes because we feel like others might not understand. Sometimes because we just can’t bear to talk it.

Regardless of the reason, most people carry burdens that they don’t wear on their sleeves.

But this isn’t about the importance of being fully open and honest with others about what we endure. We’ve all heard that before.

This is about recognizing that almost every person you encounter – whether they’re a stranger, an acquaintance, a coworker, a friend, or a loved one – might be facing a challenge you can’t even imagine.

Yes, it might seem obvious – and I’m hardly the first person to write about this – but it still bears serious discussion. When we take the time to truly reflect on what others might be going through, we tend to paint them in a more sympathetic light.

When we do this, we can work on changing our gut reaction -which isn’t always to be kind or understanding -when a stranger cuts in a line or a coworker makes a mistake.

We can try not to immediately attribute a faux pas to a person’s lack of regard for others, or any number of other overly simplistic and unflattering assumptions about their character.

These characterizations are usually untrue and not helpful for anyone involved. And it’s easier to recognize that if we understand most people face challenges that we are utterly clueless about.

Maybe the driver of the car that almost hit you is distracted by their grief over recently losing a loved one.

Maybe the person who snapped at you over something small just learned they have a serious health issue and can’t stop thinking about how their life might never be the same.

Maybe the telemarketer who called you at 9 p.m. is pushy because they’re running on four hours of sleep and need to meet their quota to pay rent this month.

Maybe the friend who blew you off for the third time in a row is struggling with a family issue that they’re not ready to discuss.

You just never know what someone might be going through.

But usually, it’s safe to say that a person’s actions aren’t always about you or against you. It’s often about what they are going through. And they may not even realize that they’ve done something that made your life a little less pleasant.

So, it can make a world of difference to just take a moment and realize that someone might be facing a challenging, heartbreaking, or just generally difficult situation that you don’t know the first thing about.

It’s not always easy to do this -and I’ll say it right now, it’s obviously not always true that there’s a heartbreaking story behind someone’s poor behavior – but I personally find it can change your whole outlook on life to begin assuming that others are doing the best they can under the circumstances.

I’m not saying we should use personal difficulties to justify behavior that isn’t pleasant for others or that we can’t respectfully ask people to change their behavior. Rather, I’m saying that we should work on being kinder in our assumptions about the motives behind another person’s words or actions.

I find this can have a ripple effect, as when we are more forgiving and understanding of others, it can help us apply the same principles to ourselves.

We are absolutely responsible for our actions, but it can be helpful to realize that maybe there’s a stressor in our own lives that makes it challenging to be at our very best.

We might be unknowingly short with others or making more mistakes than usual because we’re stressed about a health issue, worried about a loved one, experiencing financial difficulties, or going through any number of other challenges.

But the point is, when we realize that we all have untold burdens that impact how we behave, we can begin to fix some of these issues that arise.

We can try to be kinder to others while still maintaining basic boundaries and holding people accountable for their behavior.

We can try to be kinder to ourselves while still taking responsibility for our actions and working to address the root causes of our distress.

But perhaps most importantly, we can recognize that our words and actions matter more than we think. When we act with empathy and understanding, we can change our lives and the lives of those around us for the better. And that brings us one step closer to making the world a kinder place.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Cecilia Brown is city editor at The Mining Journal. She lives in Marquette and can be found hiking if the weather’s nice, or curled up with a book if not. Contact her at cbrown@miningjournal.net.

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