How to Curate Kindness with One Simple Practice
The Latte Lady in the Yellow Mercedes
She had short cropped curly blonde hair, sat in the driver’s seat of her idling mid 90’s yellow Mercedes, and was looking down at her phone. I had just watched her park, enter the coffee shop, purchase her latte to go, and walk back outside. Her car was in a parking stall marked “15 Minutes,” but I knew she had not yet come close to hitting the mark. So there she sat, sipping her steamed milk and espresso, scrolling on her phone, and gently bobbing her head to what I assume was the rhythm of the music playing through her stereo.
All of this I observed while sitting at a table near the giant windows of the coffee shop, affording me clear visibility of the entire block of this particularly busy North Park location. Parking spaces are hard to find around these parts, so the fact that this young lady snagged a spot right out front was no small feat. While I finished my starting-to-turn-warm house coffee (because I’d been sitting there for a couple hours, writing), I was drawn for some reason to the latte sipping gal in her car. On her phone. Parked.
That’s when I saw the blue minivan in the road, waiting behind her, with her blinker on. You know, the position you assume when you’re waiting for someone to pull out so that you can pull in. Blinker Woman was waiting on Latte Lady. Latte Lady, checking her email, had no idea that Blinker Woman in her minivan was behind her. Waiting.
Five seconds went by. Ten. Thirty. Probably a full minute passed before Blinker Woman went from “yay, I just found a great spot!” to “seriously, lady?! Get off your phone and move!”
Dozens of other cars zoomed past Blinker Woman before she at last gave up and drove on. Clearly annoyed that she never acquired the coveted front row spot.
Another minute went by and sure enough, as one would expect, a second car assumed the waiting position. Eager for Latte Lady’s spot.
Latte Lady, however, was still enjoying her latte. Still bobbing to Taylor Swift. Still unawares of the drama unfolding behind her.
At this point I had several feels going on, as I’m sure you do too.
First Feel: My coffee was all gone and I really had to pee. (Okay, that feeling was probably unique to me).
Second Feel: I so resonated with Blinker Woman and now Blinker Man. I pride myself on my parking-spot-finding-skills. I’m good. Real good. It’s a combination of surveying the land, watching for walking people and white lights, and being patient. The position of waiting behind someone you think is about to pull out is simultaneously exuberant (I found a sweet spot!) and infuriating (holy hell, are you EVER going to leave?!). I hate having to drive away from a great spot because it seems the parker will never leave. So Blinker Woman/Man, I see you, and I feel you.
Third Feel (It was interesting because this “feel” actually showed up before the second feel, but was then replaced by said second feel): Latte Lady has every right to enjoy her latte, her music, and yes, even her phone, for a full 15 minutes in that parking spot. I remember seeing her before the angry Blinker People showed up and thinking, “she chose to enjoy her coffee in her car instead of here in the shop. Huh. Oh well, that’s cool. More power to her.” Then, as Blinker Woman showed up, and I started to feel her angst along with her, I realized how from my perspective the Blinker Woman had zero right or good reasons to be irritated at Latte Lady. Blinker Woman (and after her, Blinker Man) both undoubtedly noticed Latte Lady’s head in the slightly-downturned position that we all know so well these days as meaning “i’m looking at my phone,” and I could read their body language that said, “lady, get off your damn phone and pull out already!” But as I observed this drama I felt myself saying, “yo, Blinker People, back off! Move along already. This lady has every right to sit in her car!”
Fourth Feel: While Blinker Man was impatiently waiting for the spot that would never be his, Blinker Woman had evidently found parking elsewhere and was now walking in to the coffee shop… along with her six year old daughter. And Blinker Woman (who was now Blinker Mom) was still riled up about Latte Lady, and she was talking crap about her to her own daughter as they entered the coffee shop! I could hear her griping to her daughter about how “she’s just sitting there, on her phone… rude… inconsiderate…” etc etc. The young girl was just nodding along. So the fourth feel was anti-Blinker Mom, mixed with judging her as a poor parent for roping in the impressionable mind of this little one, teaching her that the world is hers to judge and criticize, and make assumptions about people based on a 20 second interaction.
Finally, after Blinker man also gave up, Latte Lady put her phone down, the car in reverse, and pulled out of her spot. Still oblivious to how she had inadvertently caused two people to bust a vein in their agitated brains. Peace be with you, Latte Lady in the yellow Mercedes.
Kindness is hard to execute when we make assumptions about other people, isn’t it? How many unknowing souls have I impatiently waited behind (or, insert any other scenario), and made all sorts of unkind thoughts about, when the truth is that if I could see the whole picture (as I observed from my seat by the window) then surely I would halt the stream of thoughts that naturally flow towards anger and judgment.
And then, isn’t it fascinating when we catch ourselves judging other people for judging other people, as I did when Blinker Mom came into the coffee shop?
The simplest practice, for curating kindness in your life, is to give other people the benefit of the doubt.
It's remarkable how this simple move shapes your interior life. Even if you’re wrong, and the person you’re all fussed up towards is actually deserving of such negative energy, chances are that your negative energy will not have any actual impact on the situation OTHER THAN totally jacking up your own interior! But, if we practice giving others the benefit of the doubt (ie. “I’m sure that person has a very good reason for why they’re still in their car, they are probably getting directions to a nearby medical facility where their grandma is on life support”), we have now created space in our minds for kindness towards them.
They get to retain their full humanity as we treat them with dignity and kindness. And we get to retain our peace and sanity (assuming we had some to begin with, of course).
Imagine if Blinker Mom’s daughter said, as they walked by Latte Lady still sitting in her car, “mommy she is STILL just sitting there on her phone!” (because of course she overheard her mom’s rant from a few minutes ago), imagine if Blinker Mom seized that moment and said, “actually, hun, I have no idea why she is still there, but she is totally entitled to be there. Mommy should not have gotten so upset about it.”
Kindness, I tell ya. It’s hard, but also super simple.
Give it a try. Take a moment to apply some (absurdly over the top, if you have to!) benefit of the doubt to someone, and watch how it creates space for curating kindness.