Years ago, I made a pact with myself that if I ever wanted to compliment someone, specifically a stranger, I would do it. If I saw something I admired about them—their hair, clothes, accessories, or smile—I would speak up and kindly let them know. I stick to my pact about 60% of the time, but the other 40% I find myself feeling too shy or awkward to speak up. Truth be told, whether or not I speak usually comes down to a few factors:
- Does the person look inviting?
- Could my compliment make them feel uncomfortable?
- Would I be bothering them?
The irony is that when a stranger has paid me a compliment, none of the above factors have ever mattered. The outcome is always the same: I feel seen and grateful for their kindness. Even though I know this, I still allow my anxiety to silence me. I tell myself that what I have to say isn’t that important and it really won’t make a difference if I keep it to myself.
And maybe that is true—we can’t miss what didn’t happen or wasn’t said. But I’ve come to see that way of thinking as similar to a lie of omission because it might make a huge difference. My simple words could cause someone a great amount of joy or offer them validation when they need it most. And true, while the person may not know what they’re missing if I say nothing, willingly deciding to keep quiet is not an act of kindness on my part because, let’s face it, we can all always use a little pick-me-up. Recently, I got just that: a pick-me-up, and it wasn’t “little” at all. When I was feeling alone and invisible, it truly made my day.
I had taken a solo trip to the botanical gardens to paint. I’ve been to these gardens numerous times—with friends, family, even on a date—but I’d never gone by myself. A few years back while I was there with a friend, I saw a girl sitting amongst the roses with a sketchbook. It was so charming, this young woman alone with her art supplies getting out in nature and doing something creative and sweet with her day. Ever since then, I’ve wanted to do the same, but I never got around to it.
Well, one Wednesday in June I got up early, packed a tote bag with my paints, brushes, and pens, donned my sunhat and a comfortable outfit, and made my way to that same rose garden. It was a beautiful day, and I quickly found a bench right in front of the roses. As I was getting situated, two men walked up.
“I’m sorry, but I feel like I just have to take a picture of you!” One of them gushed as he hurried over to me. “You just look so gorgeous sitting there on the bench that I just have to get a picture! On your camera,” he added brightly, “just so you can have some photos to remember how pretty you look today!” I was completely and totally flabbergasted but handed him my phone all the same. He proceeded to direct me: “Pretend like you’re writing something down!”, “Look off into the distance…”, “Lift your head slightly…”
When he handed my phone back to me, I thanked him for his kindness and asked his name. He said he was Daniel. I told him I was Kathryn. We shook hands and he smiled at me like we were old friends. “You’re just gorgeous,” he said again with another warm smile. I waved goodbye still somewhat in shock as he and his friend went on their way. I spent the rest of my day sketching flowers and then painting them. Then I made a quick stop at a bookstore on my way home.
It was a wonderful day on its own, but the interaction with Daniel made it so much better. That brief, friendly exchange was so sweet and unexpected that even though I was still alone, I no longer felt invisible or lonely. I felt seen. I felt blessed. Because Daniel was a stranger with no stake in my life, him speaking up and noticing me to the extent that he did felt so genuine. It wasn’t something he had to do, and that’s what made it all the more special.
The energy that Daniel brought into my day is the energy I’ve wanted to bring to others with my pact. I want to speak up when I see them. And after Daniel’s boldness, I feel encouraged to do so—no matter how I’m feeling inside or how I read the factors. I want to just go for it and tell people something positive about themselves because they probably need to hear it.
How can you bring Daniel’s energy into someone’s day—what will you do next time you have the opportunity to treat people with kindness?Leave a Comment