Jan 19, 2019

On kindness and the internet

I used to have a rear-view mirror ornament of a cartoon owl saying “Kindness Matters.” This is an embarrassing truth, but a truth nonetheless. No one used to be a bigger proponent for optimism, random acts of kindness and seeing only the best from people than me.

However, I am no longer 17, and I no longer look at the world with that kind of optimism.

I no longer have a cartoon owl hanging from my rearview mirror reminding me to be kind and not flip off the jerk who cut me off in order to get to a red light faster than I did. Honestly, one of the best things I ever did was stop anticipating that people will give you their best. That sounds really pessimistic and really bad, I know, but the lesson is coming.

Social media gives us such a thrill when it comes to random acts of kindness. We live for Buzzfeed videos that depict drunk people getting puppies dropped into their lap just because. We – ok, mostly I – get teary-eyed watching an old man and a newborn baby giggle and coo at each other for minutes on end during the week’s most shared YouTube video. I almost always cry when Ellen gives people giant checks just because they work so hard at their normally thankless public service jobs.

But that’s the thing: their lives go on.

We get snippets of people’s lives through minute-long Facebook videos, we replay Ellen giving away big check after big check, and we pay for the car behind us in the drive-thru coffee line because it gives us the warm fuzzies. It is a truth fundamentally acknowledged that doing good things makes people feel good inside. It’s not that being a good human is problematic. It’s the sensationalization of goodness that makes it an issue for me.

So much of our lives has been changed because of the iPhone. We are always one touch away from the rest of the world whether it be our high school history teacher, that one friend we made on the train or our grandma in Arkansas. Because of this, we’re more prone to sharing all aspects of our life, making our Instagram and Facebook timelines our diaries. We post pictures climbing Half Dome instead of taking in the beauty. We live concerts through our Snapchat screens or we post about how we gave the sad looking homeless man $5 and a sandwich because we couldn’t bear to see him go hungry.

Whether we mean to or not, we do it for the comments that give us the warm fuzzies. We sensationalize our “random” acts of kindness because even if it’s not conscious, we want people to know that we are inherently good.

Social media is praised in its ability to bring people from far distances together, but is also harrowing in the sense that it can make us feel so alone. So alone, that sometimes the only way we can feel close to people is liking a status or double tapping on a post.

This week I’m challenging myself to be better, not for any kind of likes or nice comments from my grandma, but for the sake of bettering my life and the lives of others.

Be kind and compliment a stranger. In fact, compliment five strangers.

Even if you don’t post about it, I guarantee knowing you made another person’s day will still give you the warm fuzzies.

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