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The Sun

The Best Way to Light Up our Lives – Learning From Luz

A few months ago, I met Luz Irene. She works cleaning and preparing food in a private household in Bogota. Colombia is a country with enormous income disparities. It is not rare that people have to work seven days a week to earn just enough to meet their family’s basic needs. Luz Irene is not an exception. She lives with her two children, husband, and stepmother, Luz being the sole provider for her family. Her children, aged twelve and fifteen, have not been able to physically attend school since the beginning of the pandemic. As the family only owns one laptop, Luz leaves the children her cell phone so that both of them can attend their virtual classes.

 

There are two reasons why I am writing about Luz. The first and most important one is that she has taught me about innate happiness and Kindness in a way I had never experienced before. Luz – her name meaning “light” in Spanish – really is a bright ray of light for everyone around her. She smiles all day and radiates so much joy, warmth, and Kindness that anytime I’m visiting the household she works in I catch myself trying to be around her as much as possible. Luz is constantly looking for ways to help others and is one of the most empathic, compassionate human beings I have ever met. My friend who has known her for 20 years told me that she has never seen Luz frustrated or heard her complaining.

 

The last time I saw Luz, I decided to finally ask her for the magic recipe to her happiness. She laughed. “You know, I just enjoy my job so much. Because for me, it is not really work, it’s is an opportunity to be Kind to others every day”, she said. I was baffled. This was it? It took me some time to think about what she had said until I realized how simple yet profound her magic recipe is. By deciding to see her work as a way of showing Kindness to others, she has been able to turn around a situation that could have been very challenging for her. I remembered a quote from the Dalai Lama that I had read somewhere recently: “Be Kind whenever possible. It is always possible.”

The second reason why I am dedicating this post to Luz is an experience I had with her very recently. Two weeks ago, Luz’ cell phone was stolen on her way home from work. This meant that she now was unable to organize her job responsibilities and that one of her children could no longer attend their virtual classes. After having searched for several days, Luz told my friend that she would give up on finding a new phone as she wasn’t able to find one that she could afford. When we heard that Luz wouldn’t be able to replace her phone, my friends and I decided to join efforts and buy a new phone for her. At the time, we couldn’t imagine what this gesture would mean to her – and ultimately to us.

 

With tears of happiness, she thanked us and (unknowingly) gave us one of the biggest lessons of all: that there is always a way to contribute simply by being Kind to others. Our gift was small compared to the tremendous amount of Kindness that Luz had been giving to others for so many years. As I was witnessing her  joy over her new phone, I realized that I hadn’t felt this good in a while myself. And just then and there, I got a taste of Luz’ magic recipe. Happiness really is at our fingertips any time, I thought. And one of the most joyful ways to access it is to do an Act of Kindness for someone else.

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Big & Small: The Power of Kindness on Social Media

As social media sites have gained popularity over the last decade, the debate over their value has also reached new heights. Sure, many say that it can be a negative space, but I personally sincerely believe it is a space that holds more good than bad. And when we have harnessed the good, we have seen social media do powerful things. Social media has championed charitable causes and encouraged generosity. It has brought to light social injustices and fostered empathy. And it has shown us a shared experience and simply spread joy. At the root of all of these things is a human proclivity for Kindness. 

 

Generosity is an Act of Kindness

 

One of the most memorable social media campaigns that many will recall is 2014’s  “ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.” In this challenge, users shared a video of themselves being doused with an icy cold bucket of water. He/she then challenged a number of friends to do the same. All of the participants committed to making a financial contribution to ALS research. The end result was $115 million in donations. The ALS Association said that “[…] donations from the 2014 ALS Ice Bucket Challenge enabled The ALS Association to increase its annual funding for research around the world by 187 percent. During this time, ALS researchers made scientific advances, and care for people living with ALS expanded […].”

 

On a smaller scale, in my personal life, I have used social media to encourage my network to participate in charitable causes locally. At the start of this year, I came across an organization that (due to the pandemic) was no longer able to gather in-person and prepare meals for the homeless, disadvantaged, and unemployed. Instead, they found the next best option: ask volunteers to make bagged lunches at their own homes and drop them off for distribution. I began making lunches every week and shared the story to my Instagram. Soon, I found that many of my friends had followed the organization on Instagram. Better yet, many reached out to me directly to see how they could get involved and have since helped make lunches or contributed to the cause financially.

 

In one of these cases, the movement was large-scale and worldwide. In the other case, it was small-scale and limited to my neighbourhood. In both cases, a simple social media post weaved an extended web of Kindness. 

 

Empathy is an Act of Kindness

 

Another instance where we saw the reach of social media and Kindness was after the devestating murder of George Floyd, with the Black Lives Matter movement in the summer of 2020. Out of tragedy came a flood of activism around the world. Social media was used as a tool to amplify minority voices. Social media educated us about experiences outside ourselves. It guided us on how to have much needed conversations and also showed us where to donate to worthy organizations.  

 

Ultimately, social media became a catalyst for Kindness. The world empathized with loss and suffering. Many open-mindedly tried to understand how others navigate the world. Multitudes spoke up as allies for the marginalized. Countless people demonstrated a willingness to learn and grow. Millions began to make a sincere effort to listen to each other and make this world a Kinder place.

 

In my own life, I have also seen the power of empathy on social media. I recently posted a picture of my father on the anniversary of his passing. Many people commented on the post, sending virtual hugs and love. One comment was particularly meaningful. A classmate from high school, whom I hadn’t spoken to in well over a decade, replied with a quote that had helped him through the loss of his mother. We only exchanged a few messages but his simple Act of Kindness showed me that I was not alone in my loss of a parent. If not for social media, it is unlikely that we would have ever connected and had that small, but consequential, moment of deep human connection.

 

In one of these cases, the world saw a loss of life and rallied around an entire community to fight for justice and equality. In the other case, a single person saw the grief of an old acquaintance and shared words of comfort. In both cases, social media played a part in creating and communicating empathy to people in moments of pain. 

 

Sharing is an Act of Kindness

 

Social media’s Kindness is not limited to charitable generosity and empathetic activism. In its most basic form, social media spreads Kindness by simply sharing the human experience. When someone shares a meme, the intent is to elicit humorous laughter. Putting a smile on someone’s face is an Act of Kindness. When someone posts a birthday tribute to a friend, the intent is to celebrate. Showing love is an Act of Kindness. When someone shares an informative article, the intent is to educate. Illuminating others is an Act of Kindness. When someone likes a post or leaves a positive comment, the intent is to commend. Applauding someone is an Act of Kindness. When someone shares an inspirational quote or message, the intent is to uplift. Building others up is an Act of Kindness. 

 

Social media shows us that Kindness can be big and complex, but also small and uncomplicated. Fundamentally, we are all striving for a Kinder world. We are looking to create a better place to live and raise future generations. This cannot be done solely through individual compassion. It will also take our collective benevolence. In order to do that, we need to be connected, and social media is an important part of that connection.

 

There is no question that social media is a powerful tool, and as with any tool that holds great power, how we choose to use it matters. For my part, I choose to use it for good – to spread Kindness and positivity. 

 

What do you choose?

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