By Rebeka Ogren
Growing up in a small town in Maryland, I had a very small window of exposure to the “outside world,” also known as anywhere beyond our one-square-mile town limits. But my parents took it upon themselves to make opportunities of growth for me and my sister.
By no means did I expect a 10-year-old me to learn much from my parents’ spouts about school bullies and how to say no to drugs. However, there was one piece of advice that stood out above all the rest. It was mundane, streamlined and as basic as it gets, but it left me with a purpose in life: Be nice to everyone.
My dearest mother was quite possibly the first person ever to coin the phrase “Kill them with kindness,” and although I can proudly say that I have never killed anyone, I did do my best to remain kind.
Anytime I left the house for school, work or sports, my dad would shout behind me, “Be nice and have fun,” and my mom followed up with “Watch out for deer,” although that is now unrelated.
When there was an argument at school, a difference of opinion with a teacher or even just the Ogren girls being hard-headed, our parents would ask us how we reacted. If the answer was anything other than remaining polite, honest and kind, my mom and dad would remind us that anger, jealousy or rudeness never got us anywhere. We would never act that way again.
To some, this might sound like my parents are dictators and never let my sister and I have an attitude as many teenagers do. But it was quite the opposite; it taught me to be more aware of my inherited reactions, to listen before I act and to remember that we all need a little bit of love in this world.
My parents grew up in a world without social media, harsh expectations upon youths or even a radical and heated political climate. As children of Generations Y and Z, that is all we’ve known.
We see the insecurities and jealousy that social media represents—it places unrealistic expectations on us to be “perfect.” We see the hatred that other cultures, races and identities endure. We see the anger and menace that can come out of people in times of need.
We live in the generation of mental illness and disorders that wreak havoc on our lives. We know what it is like to live in a world that does not accept us, but we are so young. We have nothing but the capacity to fight for change and to bring ourselves back to our roots. For me, that was kindness. For my parents, that was changing the culture before it changed me.
Both of my parents would tell us stories for when it’s best to use kindness, hoping we would freely adopt the characteristic. For example, a “nerd” at school is being made fun of or looks lonely. You can go up to them and have lunch with them. Be their friend, learn about their interests and make sure they’re okay. One possible effect: You will lead by example and soon the bullying will stop. Another possible effect: If that kid happens to grow up to be the next Steve Jobs, you could possibly get free Macs for life. I’d say that’s a good deal.
Here’s another example: If your football coach is being an absolute jerk, screaming at you, cursing, punching the air at the sound of your breath, you could bring him his favorite snack one day before practice. Maybe he’s having trouble at home, his child is sick or his job is weighing on him. One little gesture could completely transform your relationship to that of reconciliation and growth. Maybe you could even become captain.
The point is, and the point I think my parents were trying to make is, our world is cruel enough. We already have the hate, the egos and the boastfulness. But what we don’t have are people who stand up and initiate small acts of kindness. You never know what might come out of it. It may come full circle; you make a new friend, or you resolve quarrels that have been bothering you.
Whatever it is, I hope you can take this life lesson from my family and put it back into yours. Always choose kindness; you won’t regret it.