Recently I was given an interview for a job recommended to me by a family friend. For all the jobs I’ve had in the past, I’ve never really had a “formal” interview by the standards of others, and so this was the first. As I looked over the emails from my new employers I came across the schematic of what the interview was comprised of and felt my stomach jump into my mouth a little when I saw that I would be asked to do a talk for one minute on any topic of my choice. Naturally, a million questions popped into my head: what’s considered a professional but relatable topic, how the heck am I going to fit this into a minute, what’s heartfelt but not overwhelming…and so on.
And I felt Father give me a little tap on the shoulder. I was a bit nervous to listen to what He had in mind to be honest, because I’ve been job hunting for the past while and all the jobs I came across seemed fool proof… I recanted any claim that I had on the job, and sat a little while longer. Kindness.
When I first came to university they advertised that it would be the apex of my social life. Never would I again in my life be in a place with so much social opportunity, diversity, and community. I would make so many friends, and would make comrades for a lifetime.
But in second year, that’s not what I’d seen or known. University was just like any other place, and in my mind, just like any other school. There had been something I had noticed though, and that was that the things that were advertised to me seemed contrary. The following is not what I specifically said, mostly it’s the brain storming that I pulled from when creating my one minute blurt.
My school is great at being involved in mental health awareness and throwing seminars and conferences and doing student appreciation. We support Bell Let’s Talk, and all those sorts of fundraisers external to our school. But forgive me, because I’m a bit baffled. I commute between campuses, and throughout my city where I also see other students, I can’t help but notice a few patterns. Unless you’re friends, you don’t talk to the people around you. Students who pass each other by on the street make every effort to not accidentally make eye contact. People would rather stand than sit in a seat directly beside someone on transit. People are flustered when addressed by someone who needs to get by them. Nearly always, youth have their headphones on.* People dart by the homeless as if they carry the plague. People don’t know how to properly introduce themselves anymore. I’m starting to feel like from what I’ve observed that people don’t really know how to interact with each other anymore. I mean, sure, I understand the whole stranger danger mantra and the natural caution (which is healthy) when talking to someone you don’t know. But come on guys, not everyone is a serial killer or rapist or con artist out to get you. If the old man needs a seat on the bus and accosts you and says thank you, it wouldn’t hurt to give a “you’re welcome, have a good day.” Or a smile. I can’t help but think of generations past when starting up a friendly conversation with a total stranger (or even just giving a smile and saying hi when you happen to pass someone in the street) was seen as totally normal. Now it’s a radicalized and even foolish idea. Instead of letting people prove their character, we trust no one.. which whether we like it or not holds hands with avoidance. And I agree, trust is earned, but we’re not asking you to spill your guts by smiling or saying hello or by exhibiting basic courtesy.
But even basic courtesy does not quite cut it. Not niceness either. Kindness. They’re not the same: Nice is all the things you make sure you don’t do to others, but Kindness is an active willingness to love and serve others and is an others-centred way of thinking. Now if you felt up till this point that kindness requires you to be talkative and outgoing, that’s simply not true or reasonable. Kindness is a facet of love cultivated in us by being redeemed in Jesus, our Saviour and Creator and thus is a way of action poured out from the heart He has given us a made uniquely. We don’t all show kindness the same way, but it’s important that we are willing to act and serve in our own way when the opportunity presents itself. In the fruit of the Spirit, there is no “Niceness” cultivated, but Kindness.
Now back to how this relates to mental health. Mental health is a very intimate and deeply rooted issue that can really devastate lives if not given the attention and care that it needs. But mental health isn’t external and easily spotted, it requires the vulnerability to talk about it. I don’t know about you, but I feel like we’re skipping a couple steps if we don’t want anything to do with the stranger on the street or in our classroom but we’re asking people to tell us what issues really rock the foundations of their lives.
People expect courtesy and for others to not be offensive, so being nice really is baseline. But if you want to connect with others and really watch God’s love on full display, be kind. Everybody wants things for free, but will rarely give what costs them nothing: a smile, an interaction, a small act of service, or some other kind gesture.
* I had to star this one, because I mostly definitely have done this in that past. Music is awesome, music is great. Love music. But I definitely miss things happening around me when I had my buds in. Slash, there’s most likely a statistic somewhere talking about how many people are so unaware of what’s going on around them that they get killed by things (sympathies and prayers for the families of such a tragedy, I really couldn’t imagine). So I would say, music has a context. I’ll let you use your discretion to figure out what that context is. All I have to say is that when I took out my headphones, I met some pretty cool people. I might get beamed by people who say I’m taking too big of a leap by inferring correlation equals causation (which it doesn’t), but whatever. Keep the buds in or out, that’s your prerogative, live long and prosper. The key idea you walk away with is that the opportunity for awesome things to happen follows you wherever you go, and if something is causing you to miss out, it might be good to reevaluate.