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Let's make kindness contagious

Whatever your political inclinations — whatever happens to buoy or discourage you over the next few days, try to remember: “In a world where you can be anything, be kind.”

Let me enhance that offering with a story.

I was grocery shopping yesterday. Attentive to the surging virus, this particular store monitors the number of people it allows inside at any given time. I stood in line outside the store for quite a while. It was cold and a little windy. I had failed to bring a sweater, but the mask I was wearing kept my face surprisingly warm, a benefit I had not previously acknowledged.

Once inside the store, as shopping is these days, there was little joy in the stay-six-feet-away reminders and no banter between customers — no words at all for the most part, maybe an occasional mask-muffled “excuse me.”

The checkout line, once reached, was long. A lanky young man wearing a store name tag ambled over and beckoned the customer behind me, encouraging him toward a new checkout opportunity. The customer, gray-headed as I am, hesitated in responding and then with the flourish of his arm encouraged me to move ahead of him into the newly opened line. I declined initially, but he persisted in his offer. I imagined him smiling behind his red, white and blue facial covering.

It was a spontaneous and caring gesture. The people around us and even the young clerk seemed to pay attention to the tenor of the moment. One exiting customer blew him a kiss. This man’s thoughtfulness and the epidemic reaction it had on the mood in that environment stayed with me — prompted me to do a little self-evaluation. I commit to identifying more opportunities to demonstrate generous and considerate outreach. “Pay it forward,” if you will.

“Practice Random Acts of Kindness” was a bumper sticker I used to see on aging Volkswagens. Maybe we need more of that kind of bumper sticker. My developing theory is that if we paid more attention to kinder, gentler ways of living our lives, it could become contagious — a virus of the best kind. For my part in the days ahead, no matter what the electoral outcome or the degree of worry about the pandemic, I pledge to be my best self. I intend to offer positive comments more generously and smile under my mask more often. “Smile with your eyes,” as my grandson phrases it.

The political climate for the next few months is likely to be tense. The pandemic is yet to be managed. Let’s commit to finding new ways to make coping contagious with simple gestures and thoughtful exchanges. As illustration, I just gave my newspaper-reading husband a kiss on his forehead — and offered to get him a second cup of morning coffee. Next, I plan to send a comment to a young mother via Facebook complimenting her on the posted behavior of her toddler son. I hope she sends me three emoji hearts in her response and gives her curly headed child a tender hug.

I have the entire day ahead of me to practice random acts of kindness. As well as tomorrow. As do you. Let’s get started.

Sharon Johnson is an associate professor emeritus, Oregon State University, Reach her at sharjohn99@gmail.com.