Here in the middle of January, we’ve already had time to break — or completely forget — those New Year’s resolutions made at the first of the month.
But if you’ve quickly abandoned this year’s resolutions — or never made any in the first place — here’s an alternate resolution inspired by Robert Louis Stevenson:
Resolve to be kind in 2018.
If this sounds too dopey, too simple, too uninspired, then keep in mind something that Stevenson noted more than a century ago. While we’re looking for the great big aspiration that will totally transform our life, it’s often the smaller changes — the ones we consider too plain and middling — that do the most good.
About Stevenson, you already know. He was a Scotsman who wrote the adventure stories “Kidnapped” and “Treasure Island,” gaining international fame along the way. He was also a frequent traveler, which allowed him to be an avid student of the human condition. Stevenson died in 1894, but decades later, his basic conclusions about the perils and possibilities of his fellow man remain as true as ever.
Or so I was reminded a few months ago, when I came across a few words Stevenson wrote about how we often ignore the mastery of small virtues like kindness because they seem not worth our time. “We require higher tasks,” said Stevenson, “because we do not recognize the height of those we have. Trying to be kind … seems an affair too simple and too inconsequential for gentlemen of our heroic mold; we had rather set ourselves something bold, arduous, and conclusive.”
I found Stevenson’s thoughts on the subject in an old volume in a secondhand bookstore while on a business trip hundreds of miles from home. I was on a lunch break from a professional conference, and something had happened just a few moments before that proved just how powerful kindness could be. At the cash register of a crowded sandwich shop, the manager had addressed me by my first name and asked about my day. He could see my name on the conference badge around my neck and had wondered aloud, “Danny, how has your morning gone so far?”
It was such a small thing, but I’d been on the road a few days, and it had been that long since I’d heard anyone utter my name. A guy in a place I’ll probably never revisit had, with a tiny gesture, made a traveler feel a little less anonymous, a bit more grounded.
Something similar happened to me in a medical office in my neighborhood last year. I was sitting in silence with fellow patients scheduled for testing when the office janitor walked in and made a point of asking us how we were doing. Instantly, our collective mood brightened, and our cares seemed lighter.
That’s what kindness can do. I’m going to try keeping that in mind in 2018.
Follow Danny Heitman on Twitter, @Danny_Heitman.