I have got to get better at remembering names. For that matter, I also need to get better at remembering faces.
I can meet someone, have a really interesting 20-minute conversation and then have no recollection of ever having met the person when I see them the next day at the grocery store.
I have tried to increase my brain power with crossword puzzles, vitamin D supplements and classical music. I would tell you to your face how well it has worked, but I still can’t remember if I’ve ever met you.
Actually, my self-help remedy seems to be working too well. Lately, I have been starting conversations with random people around town because I think I know them. It’s usually several minutes into the chat when I realize we don’t know each other.
The other day at the gym, there was a man with his back to me. I walked right up to him, beaming with my most welcoming smile and said, “Hey there! Good morning!”
The man kind of cocked his head, gave me an expression of bewildered amusement and returned the greeting.
It was then that I realized I probably should have looked at him from the front before I ran over. Once I saw his face, I realized I didn’t know him and he didn’t know me.
Why do I bother telling you about this character flaw? It’s not so you’ll cut me some slack if we ever see each other (although that would be greatly appreciated). I’m telling you this because my personal deficiency has had an unexpected benefit. I have unwittingly been spreading kindness to strangers.
Let’s take the guy at the gym. I could have said, “Oh, I’m so sorry! I thought you were somebody else,” but I didn’t. Instead I figured there was no harm in giving someone a genuine smile and a heartfelt greeting.
Think of how great you would feel if people always embraced you in that manner. The entire world would be like the set of “Cheers.” Everybody would know everybody’s name, and we’d all be friends. Wouldn’t that be amazing?
Each day, we are faced with places, circumstances or encounters that can make us feel a little awkward.
My anxiety hot spot is the elevator. In my opinion, there is nothing more uncomfortable than standing in close proximity to a stranger in silence for 45 seconds. I’m not kidding. It drives me nuts.
It happened to me again as I was walking into The Forum building to write this very column. I crossed the street and noticed a man walking just slightly behind and to the side of me. I turned to go into the employee entrance, and he turned to go into the employee entrance. I got on the elevator, and he got on the elevator.
I just couldn’t stand it anymore. I made a dumb comment about how the buttons on the elevator don’t always light up and then I decided to instead let kindness smooth my rough spots. I told him how great he looked in the bright green shirt he was wearing. In return, he gave me a big smile and all tension from that 45 second encounter was gone.
Kindness isn’t always about reaching out to another person to make him or her feel better. Sometimes, kindness is a tool best used to bridge an uncomfortable gap or cover an embarrassing character flaw, like forgetting someone’s name. Even in the case of my specialty, mistaken identity, no one can fault you for leading with kindness.
Please continue to share your stories of kindness with me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or send a letter to Kindness is Contagious c/o Nicole J. Phillips, The Forum, 101 5th St. N., Box 2020, Fargo, ND, 58107.
Nicole J. Phillips is a former television anchor for Fox News in Fargo. She is an author, speaker and mother of three kids. Nicole is married to Bison Men’s Head Basketball Coach Saul Phillips. Her columns run every Saturday.