Kindness is medicine that helps all of us11/20/2023
This is my favorite time of the year. There is no late-night bombardment from infernal fireworks like there is with the Fourth of July. There is not the pressure of Christmas to choose just the right gift.
With Thanksgiving, it is about enjoying the company of family and friends — and deciding whether to scoop up pumpkin pie, apple or banana cream. With Thanksgiving, it is a time to reflect on our blessings and to think about others who are not as fortunate.
Back during my years as a newspaper editor, I was always eager for stories that raised our spirits and warmed our hearts. Those stories were a needed antidote to the heartache that seemed too often be in the news.
The need for that antidote now is as great as it ever was. Fortunately, there are plenty of examples of uplifting news if we look for them.
Katie Steller, a Minneapolis hair stylist, is an inspirational phenomenon. She is motivated by the belief that if fear is contagious, then why can’t kindness be contagious, too?
In 2017, discouraged by stories of hate, pain and despair, she did what she was equipped to do. She took her red stylist’s chair out onto the streets of Minneapolis and began giving free haircuts to needy people without homes or jobs.
Roadsides, medians and beneath overpasses became her salon. She talked with the people she encountered. She listened to them. And she cut their hair.
“It became clear that being kind is never a wasted action, and the impact can create a ripple effect of good,” Steller tells people. “If we want to see changes in our world, it needs to start with showing up and being kind to the person right in front of you.”
In Harrison, Ark., a teenager named Ruby Chitsey understands. Kindness is her hobby. Her mother is a nurse at several nursing homes in the area. Ruby, starting when she was 10, began tagging along and visiting with the residents while mom worked.
Ruby often asked the residents what three wishes they had. She was surprised it was not money or other big things. It was little things they wanted — Chapstick, a certain snack, new slippers, warm socks. But most of all, they enjoyed having someone who sat down and talked with them.
Ruby set out to fill those wishes she heard. Now 16, she has raised more than $500,000 and given thousands of small gifts since 2018 — along with countless hugs.
“I decided I really need to do something. It really lifts you,” Ruby told CBS’s Steve Hartman last year.
Her simple idea — brightening the day of people who live in long-term care facilities — has spread across the United States. She has a nonprofit organization, Three Wishes for Ruby’s Residents, that now is filling small wishes for thousands of nursing home residents in 40 states using an army of young people who, like her, enjoy being with their old friends.
There was a different kind of contagious kindness on display in Houston, Miss., in 1971. A young unemployed man stopped one morning for breakfast at the Dixie Diner. Suspecting the man might try to leave without paying, owner Ted Horn had a creative idea.
He walked up behind the man and handed him a $20 bill that Horn claimed he had found on the floor. “I think you dropped this,” Horn told him.
The man used the $20 to pay his bill and then pocketed the change and left. But he never forgot Horn’s generosity, especially the feeling of dignity that came from not having to ask for a handout.
In the years that followed, that young diner went on to make millions in cable television and telecommunications. Until shortly before his death in 2007, Larry Stewart spent years giving away $100 bills to people he thought needed a helping hand like he once did.
Stewart became an unnamed and unidentified “Secret Santa” in Kansas City area. Before his death, he had given away about $1.5 million and lined up a replacement “Santa,” another unnamed Kansas City businessman, who has given away about $1 million since then.
This shows that kindness can be contagious, just as Katie Steller believes. And kindness and generosity can make a lasting difference in people’s lives — as Dale Schroeder demonstrated.
Schroeder was a carpenter in Des Moines for 61 years before retiring in 2004 at age 85. The native of Clarion never married and was the last surviving member of his family.
A friend, attorney Steve Nielsen, described Schroeder for KCCI’s Eric Hanson a few years ago: “He was a blue-collar, lunch-pail kind of guy. He went to work every day. Worked really hard. Was frugal — like a lot of Iowans.”
Schroeder told Nielsen he wanted to give kids an opportunity he never had, to go to college. And, boy, did he.
In all, Schroeder’s $3 million nest egg paid for college educations for 33 kids from small towns in Iowa. “Dale’s kids” graduated with no student loan debt and went on to be doctors, teachers, therapists and other hard-working taxpayers.
Nielsen said the expectations for recipients of Schroeder’s generosity were modest: “All we ask is that you pay it forward. You can’t pay it back, because Dale is gone. But you can remember him and you can emulate him.”
That admonition is a good one for all of us, because kindness grows exponentially. ♦