The Power of Kindness in Two Acts
Act One: A Failure in Kindness
One time I had to ask the local sheep shearer to come to shear my family’s flock. He is notoriously difficult to work with. Several experiences with him in the past led to me not look forward to making this phone call.
Mother and I were so anxious to avoid working with him that we first embarked on shearing the sheep ourselves. She bought an electric shearing trimmer, and we set to work. I caught them, wrestled them to the shearing spot, and secured them with a collar and rope to be sure they wouldn’t escape. It was a daunting task. Each sheep took us 30 minutes to an hour. The professional shearer could do each sheep in 5 minutes (clearly our life calling wasn’t to become full time shearers). After every sheep, our backs would be sore from bending over and our arms from holding the heavy trimmer. After a few afternoons of labor and seeing how shockingly few sheep were sheared for what felt like ginormous amounts of effort, we finally decided to make the dreaded appointment with the professional.
My task on the call was to be twofold. First, I had to request him to shear the sheep (that was bad enough), and second, I had to address some past situations and try negotiate a solution in an attempt to create a better experience for everyone involved, including the sheep, this time around.
It would be much easier to not bring up conflict, much easier to not get the sheep sheared at all! But I knew what I had to do, and I had put it off long enough already. I ran through the whole conversation in my head beforehand like a game of chess. I prepared my opening statements and tried to predict his counter moves as I constructed the strategy of my negotiations.
Reciting my prepared lines in my head, my inner frustrations with him were fully awakened. I confidently, hotly, dialed his number. At the sound of my first request, the conversation quickly spiraled down. It wasn’t in my plan to be harsh, just to be firm. But I didn’t keep my anger in check. As things spiraled, my words got harsher and he got more defensive. I dug in deeper and his responses became more cutting. After we each delivered a few blows to the pride of the other in exchanges of hurtful words, it ended with him refusing to shear any of our sheep.
The ancient Hebrew King Solomon (970 BC) said this, “Harsh words stir up anger, but a gentle tongue turns away wrath.”
As Mother and I dragged the electric shearing trimmer back to the barn and I wrestled another huge ewe into a collar, my arms aching with the weight of the trimmer and my ears tired of its merciless buzzing, the wisdom of this proverb had time to sink into my being. It was truthful, and I had acted in error. I had learned my lesson once again.
Act Two: A Success in Kindness
Part of the joy of having my own business is I get to do many tasks. One of them is customer service. I enjoy it because it gives me a chance to interact with my customers on a more personal level. It’s a joy to get to know people and most interactions are lovely. Every once in a while, though, there is someone who is really disgruntled. One day a woman emailed in regards to a misunderstanding about something in one of my patterns. She was harsh and obviously angry.
It was tempting to write back with defensiveness and harshness, but I’ve learned that when people are hurtful it’s a big clue that they are hurting inside. Hurting people hurt other people. Instead of writing back with mean words, I apologized for the misunderstanding and said some kind words about her.
Would you believe that she wrote back and said the most amazing thing? She said she was angry at me, but now because of my response, she wanted to support my business more and to be friends!
In our heads, it can seem like it’s going to be so satisfying to give someone what we feel they deserve. It’s hard to be kind when people don’t treat you fairly or kindly and are hurtful and attack your pride. But next time you want to respond with harshness, think of the words of Solomon. It’s really not all that satisfying and only makes things worse anyway. Kindness, on the other hand, can make a friend even out of people who feel like foes. It’s always worth it to be kind.
Jacque St James-Wong
Thanks for your interesting and insightful posts. its i so refreshing to se a blog that is so far flung and not specifically about the product. Strangely, it does often make me want to buy more linen, especially when there is a color story presented.
When people don’t understand each other totally, best step back, regroup, and dance out the solution.
The sheerer could have suggested another.
Pattern instructions are always difficult to understand if you have engrained ways of doing things.
New ways are hard sometimes.
Working with the public can some times be hard. Being a hairdresser I totally understand. Kindness can go a long way to defuse a situation. Thank you for the great article.
I am a Nurse Practitioner. Sometimes, patients or family members speak harsh or hurtful words about a prior healthcare experience. It is easy to become defensive and return in kind. I have found that in order to pierce the armour of anger to reach these folks I listen carefully to them. When they pause I quietly ask: What do you see that I may help you with now? There is usually a brief silence, sometimes a look of confusion on their face and then a relaxing of their shoulders and softening of their faces. And then we can begin the work of healing the past.
Beautiful! Thank you for sharing your experience.
Nell, I too am a nurse. As the charge nurse in a 12 physician cardiology practice for 26 years, I am the one who got to deal with all of the angry complaining patients that “want to speak to a supervisor”. I can say that the most effective approach for 99% of these patients has always been to listen to their issue and ask: “What can I do to make it better/help you?” I agree that you visibly see these people relax when they realize that they have been heard. Often they left my office with a smile that baffled the rest of the staff. Kindness costs us nothing and gains us everything.
I enjoy reading your blog but the Font is terrible. Just look at it yourself, eyes training and tiny tiny. Choose a font that is more readable please!
Kristina, did you know you can change the font for your own browser? On my browser, Safari (on a MacBook) I can go to the ‘view’ in the very top menu on my computer, and then find the ‘Zoom in’ function, which makes the letters larger. I hope this helps. I know as I’ve gotten older, it’s a good tool to have.
;c) talk about putting this article to good use
I’m sorry the font is hard for you to read and hope you can find a solution. Mine is reading glasses.
I wanted to add my experience that I really like the font because it comes through very clear for me. I find sans serif fonts easier to read and the spacing between words is generous.
This is such a lovely article and I enjoyed it thoroughly. I am so encouraged to see thoughts like this slowly surfacing in other places because, I believe, we are all being faced with the frustrations and lessons that this crazy time is dealing out – ones that point out how very important kindness and empathy are. Too bad that so much suffering has had to occur to make this happen, but it is a magical thing to witness. Thank you for letting us reflect on our own lives in relationship to these needs. The cracks that are occurring is where the light is coming in as Leonard Cohen pointed out and that makes me hopeful.
What a lovely article, thank you so much! I’m such a fan of fabrics-tore.com, and this solidifies my appreciation and support for you all.
Happy new year, and here’s to more kindness and happiness all around!
One of the most amazing things to me, in reading the article and responses to it, no one mentioned, how easy it should be to understand why the shearer might be difficult to deal with, both in discussions and lowering prices. The writer mentions how back breaking the few sheep were to shear. Imagine the pain of someone whose daily job it is. True it might be possible to have gained strength over a year, that might give you easier work, or skills that shortened the time for each animal.
That is speculation on my part, but repetitive stress injury is a known cause of pain. If there were other shearers in the area, that isn’t mentioned. It would be interesting to hear about the conversation from the other participant. Empathy for another’s emotions or physical feelings might have provided a path to a different conversation.
I thought that she was going to say that she called the grumpy guy and tell him she now understood what a valuable, difficult service he performed and thank him for it.
Great article, good reminder. Pleasantly surprised to see this on this site.
The second story is a perfect illustration of how to practice what Marshall B. Rosenberg calls “ Nonviolent Communication,” he’s written several books on the subject and taught it all over the world. Understanding another persons needs and speaking to that can make a world of difference in diffusing a situation. Thank you for sharing these stories with us.
What would anyone recommend on how to handle folks you have been kind to and they take that as an invitation to use you and take you for granted?
I’m 77 and have been in sales since I was 16. I ‘get’ kindness and customer service. I retired from the funeral business. Believe me. I ‘get’ kindness!
As far as the story goes: Deal with a situation as it is. Not as you would like it to be. They needed this person’s skill and expertise. Deal with it.. She should have understood there was no negotiation with this man – deal with it.
The customer? Perfect response. She diffused the situation and made the customer feel better. Lovely.
Inside every grumpy person is one who hurts and needs kind words.
Thank you for this reminder. It seems a daunting task to change the world, but I believe if the world can become a better place, the responsibility is our’s as individuals. We can make a huge impact just practicing this principle in our personal day to day interactions and influence others to want to do the same.
Great story. And so true. Why does it take such a long time for humans to learn this lesson?
When I was a school counselor, I talked with kids about kindness when we feel most grumpy. If we can do even the smallest kind deed, our grumpy, grouchy feelings will go away.
I have found that when i rehearse a difficult conversation and anticipate the other person’s responses i am always always wrong about what their response will be.
I used to raise sheep on our family ranch in Texas. I can sure appreciate the story about trying to shear the sheep. I was always thankful for the skills of a sheep shearer.
Thank you for posting this timely reminder that kindness is always the better answer.
Thank you for this post. I had a similar issue just this week. I also sell patterns. A few days ago a very frustrated beginning seamstress had many unkind things to say about my instructions. It is natural to want to strike back, but I sold bridesmaids dresses through Etsy for 15 years and had to communicate with brides on a daily basis. I learned to “be nice, be nice, be nice”. This was my mantra. I was nice to the frustrated lady, she figured out what she was doing wrong and said she felt foolish. She changed her one star unkind review to a 4 star. And, I conceded there are a few changes I will make to the instructions to make them more understandable . We have to be open minded. “Kindness accomplishes what force does not”.
Beautiful! Thank you for this poignant reminder of the power of kindness!