Guest Column: Let’s make kindness contagious this season

Published 8:59 pm Friday, November 2, 2018

Live United by Ann Austin

Ann Austin


I was watching an interview recently with Lady Gaga and she spoke about kindness — and the impact it has on individuals and the world. She spoke of how the best part about kindness is that it’s free — it doesn’t cost us anything to acknowledge someone, or listen, really listen — if they open up to us.

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Lady Gaga has lived through her own struggles in life and has personally benefited from acts of kindness by others. This year, she opened up about her struggles with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and the work she is doing to help others overcome the obstacles they face — whether it’s a mental illness, or a situation as devastating as homelessness.

Gaga has said, “I believe that the most inexpensive and perhaps the best medicine in the world is words. Kind words … positive words … words that help people who feel ashamed of an invisible illness to overcome their shame and feel free. This is how I and we can begin to heal. I am starting today, because secrets keep you sick. And I don’t want to keep this secret anymore.”

Gaga issued a challenge to the nation to commit to 1 million acts of kindness before the end of the year — encouraging each person to focus on one thing they can do.

Part of engaging in kindness is changing the narrative that lives in our minds. Embracing a sense of humility is key — recognizing we are not better than others or letting go of the need to be right — but being present in the moment with someone. We don’t need to take on others’ pain, but we can walk with them and offer encouragement, when we are able.

A wise woman told me recently, “Just because you are able to carry a burden, doesn’t mean you should.” We are not meant to bear each other’s burdens, but we can make the burdens feel lighter through our compassion and kindness.

United Ways across the state of Minnesota joined together last year to kick off Minnesota United Acts of Kindness Week. This year’s week will be Nov. 12-16.

You can participate in many ways! There will be suggestions for how to show kindness around the community and you can post on social media (#LiveUnitedMN) the many ways you have shown kindness or have had kindness shown to you. Let’s make kindness contagious this season!

Some ideas for how to spread kindness are on our website: Other ideas include: A note of appreciation, bringing a co-worker out to lunch, gifting extra supplies to local teachers, doing an act of kindness for a neighbor, telling someone how much you appreciate them — or simply holding the door open for others.

Though Gaga challenged each of us to do one act throughout the year, I challenge you to think of one act of kindness each day. It’s amazing how quickly our mindset changes when we begin to think of others.

I realized this year how perfect the timing of this event is since it will be the week after the election.

Whatever the results are, I encourage all of you to move forward in kindness toward each other. We are facing unique challenges during these times, but I believe we can find solutions if we commit to continue talking to each other and focusing on the issues we need to address.

It starts with kindness and continues with finding your personal passion and mission. There is a lot of good to be done! But first, we must find the goodness within ourselves.

“No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.” — Aesop

Ann Austin is the executive director of the United Way of Freeborn County.