Can you believe some people aren’t huggers? I’m going through hug withdrawal thanks to COVID, but I know other people who are grateful for the physical distancing rules.
I was speaking at a high school a few years ago when a shy girl walked up to me to share something painful that was on her heart. She talked about needing hope and slowly finding it through kindness. When she was done speaking, I asked if I could give her a hug. “I don’t like hugs,” she replied. “But I would love it if you would sign my homework binder.”
Thank goodness I knew enough to ask before just leaning in! How uncomfortable that would have been for both of us.
I didn’t walk away from that conversation thinking the reason she didn’t want to hug had anything to do with me. I knew it was her own individual preference.
Have you ever noticed though that sometimes we take people’s negative reactions personally? When they ignore or decline our kindness, we think it must be our fault. Sadly, we often begin to withhold kindness.
This letter sent in about a woman named Elysia shows what happens when we continue to lead with kindness regardless of the reaction we get.
“Elysia is the type of person you want to invite to your party. She is full of energy and super fun. Elysia is a fourth grade music teacher in California and I bet the students adore her.
"We were talking about kindness yesterday and the idea that we can be fueled when we show someone they matter.
"Elysia told a story about running regularly in her neighborhood when she was younger. There was an elderly couple from her church she would often see driving by. They always seemed crabby and had scowls on their faces. Elysia would see them as they passed each other on the road. She’d be running and they’d be in their car. Elysia would always smile or wave, but the couple never smiled or waved back. Countless times this happened until the elderly man passed away and Elysia found herself at their church for his funeral.
"As she was hugging her condolences to the wife, the wife pulled back, looked Elysia in the eyes and told her thank you for all the times she waved and smiled when they would see her.
"Even though they looked crabby and all but ignored Elysia, the elderly couple noticed her kindness all those times."
When we choose to smile or wave at someone, how they respond is not a reflection on us. Instead it speaks volumes about them and their heart. We can’t take their actions personally or just stop leading with kindness because they don’t seem receptive. We have to continue to show kindness, because we are kind, not because we need anything in return.
Sometimes the people who are least receptive to our kindness are the ones who need it most. They just aren’t quite sure what to do with it. Give them time, and they’ll figure it out.
Please continue to share your stories of kindness with me at email@example.com.
Nicole J. Phillips, a former Fargo television anchor, is a speaker, author and host of The Kindness Podcast. She lives in Aberdeen, S.D., with her three children and her husband, Saul Phillips, the head men's basketball coach at Northern State University. You can visit Nicole at nicolejphillips.com.