I know so many women who have had breast cancer. One of my best friends had it, and two close friends have gone through double mastectomies. The treatments these women have had to go through, surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, hormone therapy, physical therapy, etc. is traumatic. So many other people I know have had other types of cancer. My brother-in-law had thyroid cancer. My mom has leukemia. Not only are the treatments traumatic there are the thoughts and questions: Will I live? Will I die? Will I go into remission? Will the cancer come back? Will my spouse, kids, loved ones be okay without me? Will I ever get back to a normal routine? Will I have another birthday? Will I see my kids get married? A cancer diagnosis creates fear, doubts, plans for treatment, and thoughts of death.
I thought about this yesterday as I was scrolling through Facebook. I have over three thousand friends on that platform (I don’t know most of them, I follow them because they are writers). But with a connection to that many people every day, I read a lot about illness which translates into a lot of trauma. Of course, there are traumatic experiences beyond illness too – the loss of a loved one (I see this daily). There is the loss of a home or job. There is so much pain, grief and injury going on around us all the time that it made me think, “Everyone is suffering in one way or another. Everyone has experienced a traumatic event that changed them, scarred them, scared them and made them vulnerable.”
That vulnerability that people feel can find expression in many ways. In the worst way, it is anger. In the best way, it is compassion toward others, but there is no one way to respond to trauma or the scars it leaves behind.
That is why I thought about radical kindness. Let’s be clear, I didn’t come up with the term or concept of radical kindness, but I can add that it is how I want to respond to the people I encounter and how I hope all of us will try to act and help take a step in healing each other.
Last week I bought a homeless man a Frappuccino at Starbucks because that was his drink of choice. That kind of kindness is easy to act out. It is easy to see the need for a homeless person. It isn’t always easy to see the need in the customer service person on the other end of the phone or the server at your local restaurant or the grocery store clerk. People are hurting all around us.
I know we have all seen the meme going around the Internet about being kind because we don’t know what someone else is going through, and it seems cliché. It’s true, though, we don’t know what other people are going through, and everyone has experienced a trauma of some kind or another. In other words, everyone has a pain they are carrying.
As I see it, radical kindness is a kindness practiced toward everyone we encounter. May we always have a kind word on our lips. May we always offer our place in line to the person behind us. May we buy a stranger a cup of coffee or a hot meal or pay for their groceries. May we meet every person with compassion, and an open heart. May we always act bold and brave and from a place of abundance when we see a person in need. May we recognize that every person we encounter is a person in need.