By Jan F. Demers
“Get in the van! We are going!” She gave her friend — who had avoided doctors for years — little choice. She had listened to the other tell of pain and had seen her gait change. The result of the van trip: The doctor found a tumor in her friend’s back, and after surgery, there was a complete recovery.
A young woman in the waiting room asked the staff where she could get a crib. An older mom spoke up: “I have one I’m not using anymore. Where do you live?” Plans were made and a crib found a welcome new home.
An older man hefted a box of food into both arms and walked out the door and onto the road. A younger man who was loading food into his truck called out, and as a result the two headed down the road together, one chauffeured by the other.
Life Vest Inside is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to counteract bullying, depression, and substance abuse through acts of kindness. Founder Orly Wahba proffers that kindness, like most medical antidepressants, stimulates the production of serotonin. Serotonin heals wounds, brings calmness, and entices happiness. Engaging in acts of kindness produces endorphins, which are natural painkillers. Cortisol is known as the “stress hormone.” It has been found that people who practice kindness have 23 percent less of this hormone in their systems.
What we know in the waiting rooms of the Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity is that kindness cuts through tension. It changes a room full of strangers in crisis mode into a safe setting where conversation starts.
The opposite is startling. Anger brings fear, a sense of limiting resources and selfish posturing. Where there is kindness, there is enough to share. It is observable.
After a tragic death, one family we serve started a Go Fund Me page to pay for the funeral of their friend.
One man, small in stature but generous in deed, carries groceries to vehicles for people at the Chittenden Emergency Food Shelf. Though speaking little English, his gallantry, literal and figurative, opens doors for others.
Women swap out babysitting so others can attend our financial capacity classes. Daughters bring mothers to class and savings accounts are started, introducing more control to new generations.
One chronically homeless man, though eccentric in appearance and needing new clothing, was given a Goodwill voucher. He bought the clothes that he needed, plus a small toy for the waiting room.
Those we serve in turn serve us when kindness is shared. Kindness inspires our staff and deflects the tendency that could lead to a numbing hardness. We have seen kindness in action time after time with those we deem have little to share.
Abraham Joshua Heschel, one of the leading Jewish theologians and philosophers of our time, said, “When I was young, I admired clever people. Now that I am old, I admire kind people.”
Kindness has little to do with whether you have wealth or poverty. We expect more generosity from the rich and find it abundant in the poor.
Jan F. Demers is executive director of the Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity.