#BeKind21: An Obligation To Give

September 11, 2019

As Executive Director of Born This Way Foundation, I often ask you to be brave. To be brave in reaching out to others who might be struggling and to a trusted someone if you’re having a difficult time. It’s time for me to brave: this week has been tough. 

I’ve been in a bad mood for the past couple days and it’s been difficult for me to put a finger on exactly why that is, especially as my inbox is flooded with your #BeKind21 messages. I kept asking myself why and realized that I’m in California this year, on September 11th. New York City will always be home and I try and spend every September 11th in the city that I love. That day, 18 years ago, was a day when so many people lost their lives and many more lost their loved ones. It was also a day during which I learned what being compelled to action meant. On that day, my mom, a psychologist, was in Manhattan at her office seeing patients. As the attacks unfolded in front of her, my mother calmed me and my new friends in the dorm down, searched desperately for my father as the phone lines to his Union Square office were shut off, and ensured my brother got home safely from high school. She made sure we were OK first, and then instead of coming home, she went to the Armory to offer mental health support to victims of one of the biggest tragedies her adopted country had ever experienced.

I’ve written about my mother before, but it didn’t become clear to me until this morning when I worked through my sadness with a colleague that she is the one who gifted me the deep sense of obligation that I have to help. She never told me to care for others, I just saw her do it and September 11, 2001 was especially pivotal in showing me how urgent it is not to turn away even during the hardest of circumstances. I say this not to compare, but when my daughter Logan and I went to the leadership convening for Starbucks in Chicago last week, one of the executives thanked her for sharing her mom with the world. She is four so she asked the woman for a lollipop, but I understood immediately what this woman meant because I realized I did that with my mom. That sense of wanting to give, even if it means sacrificing some of my own needs, is constant and seemingly lives in me at the cellular level, as it did for my mom. 

As members of the Born This Way Foundation community and especially as a community who has pledged to develop a habit of kindness, I know that sense of obligation is probably in you as well. Thank you for caring, thank you for helping, and thank you for giving me a space to share my sadness. 

Your kindness challenge today: I wouldn’t have unraveled this today if a colleague hadn’t lent me her kind ear so please reach out to others and check in. The act of just being there is the kindest, most powerful thing you can do. If you want tips for how to start the conversation, check out these guides from Active Minds and The Jed Foundation.

You can also click here to learn about how you can give back to your community for 9/11 Day.

My family will support our local fire station today with freshly baked cookies and kind cards.


In Kindness,

Maya Smith

Executive Director

Born This Way Foundation

P.S. Invite a friend to join the challenge: bornthisway.foundation/bekind21.