Kindness is in my DNA

August 21, 2020

By Josh Meredith

Pledge to Take Action

My Grandma Bernice spent the afternoon before she passed away delivering meals to her fellow elderly neighbors on her motorized scooter.

That’s it. That’s the tweet.

Fueled by a Captain D’s baked potato and a Starbucks cappuccino, Grandma Bernice was putting kindness into action on her dying day when she couldn’t even walk. But it tracks. That was just an ordinary day for her. Kindness runs through the branches of my family tree in the same way as our love of cheesecake, our musical ability, and our thin, wispy hair. It’s in my DNA.

I believe much of this kindness is a product of the transgenerational grief that also seeps down those same branches of my family tree on both sides. My Pappy lost his parents and baby sister in a tragic accident when he was only 16. Now he never leaves a room without a hug or says a goodbye without an “I love you”. My dad has made sure every member of our family does the same to this day. These acts of kindness, though understandably rooted in fear, have become a necessary comfort as the magnitude of loss has had lasting effects on both sides of my family.

The grief that has been passed down created an unbreakable familial bond which placed utmost importance on loving and appreciating each other deeply while we still have each other in this life. My Nanny calls me when she wakes up from a dream she had about me to let me know I’m on her mind. My dad sends me a goodnight message – every single night, without fail. We’re all constantly texting back and forth checking in, making sure everyone’s doing okay.

Kindness is letting your loved ones know you love them and checking in with them regularly. I learned that at a young age.

I also learned at a young age that we help people. In the same way that Marmee in Little Women encouraged her girls to share their Christmas breakfast with a less well-off family in town, my mom was always nudging me to go visit Fern next door who’s feeling lonely, take Grandma Bernice a cappuccino to cheer her up, or go hug Dad when he comes in from a long day work. That nudging eventually formed a habit in me. In the summertime when my mom worked as a Special Needs Consultant for teachers in Kentucky summer schools, she took me and my brother with her. I expected to be able to sit in the corner and play Tetris on my Gameboy all day. Nope. Mom made sure we were talking and playing with the other kids who we learned, though they were differently abled than us, they were not all that different from us.

My mom taught me kindness is anticipating others’ needs. Kindness is understanding a new perspective.

Kindness is not only in my blood, but also is in the community that helped raise me. Elaine, “Mama Young”, became a surrogate mother to me early on in my days in children’s theatre as I formed a close friendship with her daughters. Throughout my life, she has tirelessly sought out my unmet needs and met them without missing a beat – a job in her office when I needed flexible hours in college, a meal to celebrate a successful opening night, new dance shoes, and most importantly, a nonjudgmental listening ear when I needed. I constantly tell her I’ll never be able to repay her, but she helped me understand that showing this kindness fulfilled her.

Mama Young taught me kindness is not transactional, kindness is doing good without expecting anything in return.

Through our research at Born This Way Foundation, we know that young people who describe their environments as kind are more likely to be mentally healthy. I am a living example of that. As someone who has experienced anxiety and depression from an early age, the kindness and compassion my loved ones showed me throughout my life – even if they didn’t fully understand what I was going through or how to help – always pulled me through the darkest times.

It’s no surprise that when I joined Team Born This Way Foundation, my mom soaked up every bit of our work and mission that she could like a little kindness sponge. She’s become my unofficial intern – sending out Find Your Anchor boxes and seeking out the unmet needs for nonprofits in her town. When she learned about our yearly #BeKind21 campaign, she immediately took the idea and incorporated it into her church’s programming.

“Mom, don’t you wanna wait until September when the official campaign starts?”

“Nope. We need it now.”

She had the entire congregation writing down their lists of kind acts and wearing ‘Be Kind’ shirts in a matter of days.

She was right. We do need kindness right now, which is why I hope you’ll click here to join us for #BeKind21 to learn how you can incorporate the habit into your daily life in the way my loved ones helped me to do because even after September 21st, the world will still need your kindness.

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