Gifts That Can’t Be Wrapped: Kindness, Respect, and Patience

“Joy to the world” and “Peace on Earth” are commonly heard phrases in December. If you’d like to help that spirit endure year-round, here are some habits to cultivate.

To develop a lasting spirit of kindness:

  • Purge your mental vocabulary of loaded words. When you catch yourself thinking of someone as “dumb” or “stubborn,” stop and remind yourself that they’re real people with feelings and legitimate concerns.
  • Smile a lot. It cheers others up and helps put your heart in the right place.
  • Wherever you go, make a point of noticing others. Really look at them and try to imagine what kind of day they’re having and what they might need.
  • Listen! Instead of tossing out a “How are you?” in passing, show some willingness to hear how people really are.
  • Practice random acts of generosity and “paying it forward.”
  • Be careful about automatically agreeing to do favors. It’s not really kind to say “yes” if you just want to avoid a long conversation, or if you resent the request, or if you know you won’t have time to do a good job.
  • Take care of yourself too. Fatigue and rush = constant grumpiness = automatically unkind thoughts toward others.

To develop a lasting spirit of respect for others:

  • Excuse yourself from conversations that belittle or berate people behind their backs. You don’t need to be influenced by such attitudes.
  • Dust off the “wait a day before sending what you’ve written” principle, which was standard when “writing to someone” meant a snail-mail letter. Social media comments are easier to fire off on impulse, but they cause just as much trouble when used to vent anger.
  • Go beyond the Golden Rule. “Do to others as you would have them do to you” is a fine principle—until you forget that not everyone thinks like you all the time. Learning the Platinum Rule—“Do to others as they would have you do to them”—cultivates empathy and reminds you to pay real attention to people’s needs.
  • Take a genuine interest in others. Encourage them to talk about their hobbies, families, and experiences—and remember to let them do most of the talking.
  • Look for media stories that focus on individuals, rather than general events and opinions. Learn to hear the actual voices of people affected by an issue.
  • Watch/listen to/read media sources that express viewpoints different from yours. Pay attention to why others think the way they do.
  • Attend an expo, cultural festival, or religious service for a group you’re unfamiliar with.

To develop a lasting spirit of patience (the most neglected of all!):

  • Make more time for yourself by carefully reviewing your regular activities and felt obligations. Remove any that are outdated, unnecessary, or unrelated to your most important goals.
  • Pick a project you’ve been “meaning to get to,” and assign it a daily or weekly place on your calendar. Schedule the project into these time slots, step by step; and do each step at its assigned time, not earlier or “later.” Besides accomplishing something worthwhile in the long run, this approach cultivates a mindset of not rushing ahead.
  • When you have a scheduled appointment, leave for it at least twenty minutes earlier than you think you’ll need to (5–10 minutes if the appointment is virtual). Knowing you have extra time will help you ride out delays without boiling over.
  • Know what pushes your buttons, and plan in advance for avoiding or managing such situations. If you loathe navigating phone menus, send an email or letter instead; or delegate the phoning to someone who handles it better.
  • Let someone go ahead of you in line, or slow down so someone can merge into traffic. Do this at least three times a day.
  • Go to bed early and get up early. If you start the day in reluctant-rising-and-rush mode, your patience instinct may never catch up.
  • Do what you can, and avoid trying to control the uncontrollable.

From all of us to all of you: Enjoy a blessed holiday season and a marvelous 2023!

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