Create a Chain of Kindness

by Tammy Strobel on June 13, 2011

A few months ago, I was riding my bike home after a morning of volunteering. Rather than going home I decided to change course and write at one of my favorite coffee shops. The coffee shop is quiet and it looks out over the Willamette River. The view is incredible and I love the atmosphere.

I walked into the shop, set my bag down at the nearest table, and began stripping off my rain gear. Once again, I was sending REI a silent thank you for their waterproof clothing. Throughout the morning, the rain came down in sheets. As I was cycling to the coffee shop water dripped off my face and clothing, but none of it seeped through my rain gear.

The barista gave me a half smile and I tried to be as friendly as possible. She seemed extremely downcast and wasn’t in the mood to chat about coffee or the weather. So I ordered my coffee, a brownie, and plopped down in my chair. It was time to get some writing done.

About an hour later, I looked up from my computer screen and saw the barista standing outside talking on her cell phone. She had tears streaming down her face and pang of empathy shot through my body.  When she came back into the shop, she seemed okay. But when a few more customers came into the shop, she started crying and ran into the restroom.

One of the other patrons looked at me and said, “Ohhh no, I feel horrible. She was sobbing so hard. I wonder what happened?”

Another customer said, “I don’t know, but it must be really personal.”

Soon the barista emerged from the bathroom and one of the patrons asked, “Can I give you a hug?”

She nodded meekly and apologized for crying. She rang up customers in line and then turned to me and said, “I think I’ll have to close the shop. I’m so sorry.”

I looked at her and said, “Don’t worry. It’s not a problem.” Then I went onto say, “I don’t want to be rude, but are you okay? Is there anything I can do to help?”

She replied in a shaky voice, “Thanks for asking. But I’ll be okay. I have friends who will listen. There’s nothing you can do to help.”

As I packed up my stuff, I was reminded of the importance of kindness. Recent research shows that hearing about kind acts makes people feel better and increases their own desire to perform good deeds. In essence, we can create a chain of kindness in our lives and in the lives of others. Some examples include, smiling at someone who seems sad, donating blood, helping a stranger with a computer problem, or giving a homeless person $20.

Being kind to the barista in the coffee shop didn’t take much effort. Yet ten years ago, I probably would have been put off by her demeanor. The “old Tammy” wouldn’t have gone back to this little coffee shop because I wouldn’t have been impressed by their customer service.

It’s so easy to be annoyed by the guy tail-gating you in his car, or angry at the cashier who was rude to you in the grocery store. But the thing is, you never know what kind of emotional baggage people are carrying around with them. Instead of operating from a place of reaction, why not operate from a place of kindness? Why not give people the benefit of doubt?

I don’t know what happened to the barista in the coffee shop. I’ve been back a few times since I met her and she hasn’t been working. Even if I did see the barista again, I wouldn’t ask for the details of why she was upset. It would be too awkward and it’s none of my business.

But I keep thinking about that rainy day a few months ago. I hope the barista is okay and I hope my very small attempt at being kind and patient made her day a little brighter.

Parting Words . . .

Even if we don’t know the outcome of our actions, it’s important to remember that we all depend on the kindness of strangers.

Micro-action: Consider performing five acts of kindness this week. These acts can be large or small and they don’t have to be for the same person. For example, consider donating blood, writing a thank you letter or taking a friend out for coffee.

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