Pay it forward: Kindness always pays

On one of those wet rainy days after Nov. 8, 2016, in the dark evening, I walked up to the Post Office feeling personally beaten. At the door, a young man stood holding the door for me and then went inside and opened the second door.

I was surprised. I thanked him and walked to my mailbox. It so happened his mailbox was a few boxes adjacent to mine. As I turned to leave, mail in hand, he greeted me with a smile and said that he had had a good day and needed a break from Facebook. We both did.

I thanked him for his kindness when he told me he thought we all needed to become kinder, especially now after an election cycle that has done damage to destroy community and good will among people of all ages.

Next thing I knew we were discussing the post-election rancor and he said, “I wish we could all accept that the election is over and get on with life. Someone had to win and someone had to lose.” Both of us hesitant to discuss our choice, I detected his sincerity and desire to end feelings of civil war in our own community. We visited, total strangers, standing in an empty public building where citizens of Homer come and go daily. Unplanned, we stood there held captive to the conversation and the energy between us. Both of us had other things to do. Something held us together for a minute or two.

He didn’t have to be kind to me. He didn’t have to greet me or even smile. He did, genuinely. He didn’t have to hold the door for me. He didn’t have to engage me in conversation and be fully human for a few minutes to a complete stranger. He did, with authenticity.

He didn’t have to stop and warmly discuss what was on his mind and intuitively know what was on my mind, too. He did without fear. No fear of rejection or animosity. No need to be right. No we-they. He risked my rejection. He reached out as one human to another. It didn’t matter our ages or gender.

In that moment, it felt like this is how it’s supposed to be between people. Peaceful and good will, each one of us on our individual journey, yet together respectful and honoring each other’s presence and being. Life not so busy or intense that there is time to be fully human for a few minutes during this difficult week. There was no reason to be guarded and careful with every word out our mouths. Impulse told both of us we were safe in this dialogue.

A recent book, “Tribe,” by Sebastian Junger discusses the alarming rhetoric from the dispute between liberals and conservatives when both are right. Conservatives want higher taxes to support a nonworking “underclass” and liberals want to care for the ill, the elderly, the wounded and the unlucky. These forces have co-existed for hundreds or thousands of years in human society as humans discovered the strength and wisdom of community.

Today we have the two-party system and this eternal argument will never be solved as long as the focus is on differences instead of where those forces overlap. Lawmakers must stand together and compromise for our diverse “tribe,” the United States of America. Junger says the ultimate betrayal of tribe (or community) is predicating your power on the excommunication of others from the group. All the venomous rhetoric about rivals serves to shut out fellow citizens when openly reviled.

He likens us in a combat zone. Junger, an author and reporter from Iraq and Afghanistan wars, states revile and discrimination are the very things that lead to defeat. Junger goes on to say the big banks, Wall Street, and hedge fund managers who gambled trillions of taxpayer money on blatantly fraudulent mortgages criminally destroyed the tribe. Soldiers in combat who behave this way are punished. Big bankers and corporations have yet to be made accountable for nearly destroying our tribe.

Ending our conversation, we introduced ourselves, he younger than me, curly hair spilling from under his cap, eyes sparking and alive. He needed to get to a waiting friend. We shook hands, exchanged names and departed. Unsure how this affected him, I walked easier into the fresh air, in wonder, amazed and pleased that this moment of goodness just happened. I drove slowly thinking about these kind of moments when life brings people together accidentally and magic happens.

Flo Larson is a board member for the Homer Foundation.