“It only takes 21 seconds to be kind to someone.” That’s what Wayne Soares told a Boys and Girls Club in Boston.
Soares, a former sports broadcaster on ESPN Radio and Fox Sports, is now an author and motivational speaker.

He recounted an episode from his youth with his Boston Red Sox idol. His idol missed a golden opportunity to encourage him but instead treated him with disrespect. “He embarrassed me and it was mean.”

Soares then performed a little role-play demonstrating kindness and had an attendee time him.

“How long did that take?” Soares asked.

“Twenty-one seconds,” the student replied.

In 21 seconds, we can brighten another person’s day. We can make her or him feel good about herself or himself. It doesn’t take much time or cost any money to turn an encounter into a positive one.

Joel Osteen, a mega-church pastor, says that it is not his calling to beat people down. They come to church already beaten down. “I want to lift people up.”

If I ask you, what is the meanest thing someone ever said to you, you could answer me instantly. On the other hand, if I ask you what is the nicest thing someone ever said to you, you would have a hard time remembering.

I often use an exercise where I ask my listeners about words. When I ask them for nice words, they are very slow in answering. When I ask them about mean or ugly words, the words tumble out in torrents.

When others say kind things to us, we are often suspicious. “What do you want?” we think to ourselves.

Sometimes it is because we have been stung by someone who does have ulterior motives, but why do we varnish everyone with the same brush? Certainly we don’t want to be fooled or trapped again, but isn’t that an unhealthy way to live our lives?

Yes, there are those who will take advantage of our trusting nature, but I refuse to give control of my life over to those people. In my experience, there are far more people who are kind and generous. I am going to take my chances with them.

I want to be a person who encourages others. I want others to be happy that I am in their lives, and I want others to be glad to see me.

I am always happy to see my friend, Ken Willingham, a business executive who always has a smile on his face and kind words to share. Ken maintains that small words, such as “please” and “thank you,” make all the difference in how people react to us.

Our folk language tells us that we catch more flies with honey than we do with vinegar. The Bible tells us, “To let no evil talk come out of our mouth,” and that, “A soft word turns around wrath.” We know these things to be true.

Since I first read the poem, “Outwitted,” by Edwin Markham, I have had many occasions to reflect on its simple message.

He drew a circle that shut me out;
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
But love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle and took him In!

When we enlarge our circle to bring others in, we open ourselves to new experiences, new ideas and a broader understanding of our world. We can do this in 21 seconds.

My late wife had a gift for making others feel accepted and valued. While teaching 3-year-olds in kindergarten, a little boy came to her distraught. All the other boys were wearing superhero underwear, but his was stark white.

She said, “You have superhero underwear. You are the Ice Man.” The little boy bounded off to join his friends as happy as he could be in his Ice Man hero underwear.

Soares said that as a young boy the treatment he received from his idol frightened him. Remember the Ice Man story when you are about to put someone down, give someone the cold shoulder or ignore his or her presence.

Being kind requires so little of us, but the rewards are so great.

Mitch Carnell is a consultant specializing in interpersonal and organizational communication. He is the author of Random Acts of Kindness. He and his wife, Carol, are members of First Baptist Church of Charleston, S.C. He blogs at MitchCarnell.com.

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