I recently attended the East Bay Women’s Conference in Walnut Creek, CA (Thanks again for the ticket, Siggi!) and had the pleasure of hearing a number of speakers- all strong, sensitive, powerful women in their own ways that came from vastly different backgrounds but each giving us the incredible gift of their time and sharing their experiences with us. The timing was perfect as I had overdosed on the rhetoric and negativity that has been awash in the media and desperately needed to feel like I could find some thread of hope to get inspired back into action to make a difference in the world. This also helped me to feel better about the state of our society and culture with all this white noise. What I walked away with was not only a renewed sense of hope but also renewed empowerment, respect for the work that many women are doing every day, and inspiration to do some very simple things that have a huge impact. And it turns out, our world is not only worth saving but is perhaps not even all that broken to begin with.
Even though these speakers were extremely different people, there was a common theme that arose in their messages that needs to be shared and spread more loudly than the rest of the noise we are all used to. We have an opportunity to make a difference in the world and the beginning steps are so easy it almost defies logic, and if you are a woman reading this you are already at an advantage because you do this better than your male counterparts. It gets better. This does not cost you anything, only takes the amount of time you have to offer, and will definitely give you something back.
Say something nice.
Bonus points if you say something nice to a stranger. You start hitting superhero status if it’s to someone completely unlike yourself.
Before you stop reading and go back to your Pinterest board, there’s a method to the madness- hear me out.
Despite what you hear every day we are far more alike than we are different. But somehow in the grand psychology of the human mind we choose to immediately identify a stranger on the other side of the political aisle, pew, street, or protest march by our differences than our common ground. Think of what would happen if we treated everyone in our lives that way! There are several friends of mine that have very different opinions in one regard of life or another. Yes, it’s true that birds of a feather flock together, but if you’re like me you also surround yourself with people who are different because they enrich your life with new perspectives, experiences, and unforeseen joys. That doesn’t mean we will agree on everything, however, yet friendships are maintained. We have even (gasp!) changed one another’s minds on the occasional subject when we’ve taken the time to fully vet out a fuller, broader perspective.
The caveat to this super-simple-world-saving-gesture is that you must do it with sincerity and authenticity. Saying something nice does not mean you are agreeing with everything that person is, says, or does- far from that actually. It means that you are simply honoring them in a very simple way from a good place inside you. In other words, be kind. Kindness doesn’t have to be a grand gesture. It can be something small like complementing a complete stranger on their amazing artisan necklace, beautiful accent, or the cutest French bulldog you’ve ever seen. Why does it make such a difference- especially with a stranger? Because they know we don’t have a horse in the race. If your significant other says you look nice, we are suspect because we know that they likely don’t want to hurt our feelings so will refrain from being critical. A stranger has nothing to gain and so we assume that they are acting with a greater degree of honesty. Admit it, complements from strangers just feel good.
Changing the world is a matter of changing mindsets, and being open to another person is the first step. Ashley Judd, the feminist, Social Justice Humanitarian, and award-winning actor, was the keynote speaker at this event and said something very powerful; she reminded us all that you can stand for something without standing against everyone else. That really resonated with me, and I hope it does with you, too. It’s an amazing universal phenomenon- you can say something kind to another human being without losing one molecule of your own beliefs or moral fiber. She also said that we shouldn’t be so focused on showing the world that we’re right, but to show them that we are good. Ouch. I’m definitely guilty of wanting to feel that I’m on the “right” side of any given issue, but it has not gotten us, as a society, very far as of late as we seem to have dug ourselves so far in that we no longer listen to one another.
Amaryllis Fox was another speaker. As a former CIA Clandestine Service Officer, Writer, and Peace Activist, (I told you they were all very different speakers) she had literally accomplished more by the age of 17 than I will likely accomplish my entire life. After getting over my immediate feelings of gross inadequacy, I took note of a few very impactful statements that she had offered. The most powerful for me was that listening was not a synonym for agreeing with. In other words, you can hear the other side of a viewpoint to gain understanding with zero deterioration of your own viewpoint. It doesn’t cost you in your beliefs and you haven’t really sacrificed anything. Although you may never agree with that other person’s opinion, perhaps it may be just a teensy bit easier (or even feel good) to say something nice to them because you understand them more now as a person. Again, it doesn’t mean agreeing with them, it just means that you’re understanding them more than you did before. This place of understanding is also where you will likely find some common ground, even with the most unlikely of people.
The best part about this is that you get something out of it, too. When you complement someone, you must be in a certain state of mind and openness. If you’re having a bad day but force yourself into it, you’ll literally reframe your current state of mind just by saying something nice to someone. Can you imagine the impact if you did that to one person every day, and they in turn made someone else’s day by doing the same? What if that went viral? What if we all were just a little more open to one another as human beings for a few minutes a day? Is it possible that we’d have one more connection point and one less thing that separates us? What if being kinder would relieve someone’s suffering for just a moment? We, as humans would be unstoppable and we could really save the world.
And it all started because we said something nice.