Balancing Act

Traveling from judgment to kindness takes practice

How assuming the best in people reminds us of all they contribute

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Kindness

Kindness (Chris Walker / Chicago Tribune / December 2, 2005)

I delivered the sermon from my driver's seat pulpit, my favorite mount from which to dispense worldly wisdom and perspective.

So I didn't actually see my children's eyes rolling. But the air hung heavy with that mixture of weariness and disdain that usually follows my speeches. (My daughter once told me, "Mom, things don't always mean something.")

This particular day's lesson was inspired by a little gem I stumbled upon in a Huffington Post essay by journalist and screenwriter Nancy Doyle Palmer: "There is little to be gained by assuming the worst in people."

Man, I couldn't wait to use that one. I waltzed right into the first opening I could find: my daughter complaining about a fellow classmate's recess etiquette.

"She never talks to us. She just sits on a bench and reads."

Why do you think she does that?

"She thinks she's better than us."

Or do you think she might be shy?

"No."

Are you sure? I wonder if maybe she needs a friend.

"No. She thinks she's better than us."

Bingo! HuffPo essay quoted. Eyes rolled. (I assume.) Many minutes of silence endured. And then …

"Whatever. I mean, I guess we could invite her to my birthday party."

I went around feeling mighty proud of myself after that, right up to the moment when I found myself railing (aloud, with my kids in the car) against a fellow parent's driving etiquette.

In other words, assuming the worst.

Feeling a little sheepish, I gave myself a challenge. What if I started assuming the best in every person I encountered?

That guy who cut me off in the school kiss 'n' go lane? He's not a narcissist who believes both his time and his child are more important than mine. Nah. He's a brain surgeon! Who always makes time to drop his sweet daughter at school! Despite having morning patients! He's in a hurry to save lives, that's all!

The woman who let the door slam in my face behind her? Flu shot. Sore arm.

The neighbor who ignored my cheery good morning greeting? Meditating.

The reader who emailed me that I seem like "quite a little snot"? Needs a friend.

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