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December 23, 2014

You Have a Superpower—Use It!

Wooden figures holding hands with text: Are You Using Your Superpower?

This is a crazy and chaotic time of year for many of us. We have presents to buy, shipments to make, and year-end projects to finish. In other words, this stressful time of year can also bring out the worst in people.

Those of us who are usually generous and kind might be tempted to cut someone off to get in front at a long line at a cash register or service desk. We might drive aggressively to snag that last parking space in the lot. Or we might raise our voices to vent our frustration when the store is sold out of that last gift we needed to make Christmas “complete.”

Luckily, we all have a superpower. Yes, you—sitting there, reading this on your screen—have a superpower. Really. *smile*

Don’t believe me? Has a stranger ever given you a smile or a kind word at just the right time when you needed it most? That’s probably happened to all of us.

That stranger had the power to affect us, and we likewise have the power to affect others. We have the power to make someone else’s day better. Or at the very least, we have the power to provide a bright spot in their otherwise crappy day.

We have this superpower every day, but it’s especially important to wield our power during this time of year, when the lines and the rushing around and the deadlines can make even the best of us a little crazy(er).

For those of us who enjoy the introverted, work-by-ourselves nature of writing, this time of year can also mean that we’re out in the world more often than usual. *raises hand* That means we’re having to deal with others just when we’re all stressed and short on time.

Year round, whenever I deal with customer service people in “the real world”—whether a cashier at a grocery or a clerk in a department store—I always try to share a smile and friendly greeting, even though I’m introverted. Those who work retail have a difficult job and often face grumpy customers who don’t see them as people. My smile and outgoing interaction might be the only good moment in their crappy day.

My attitude goes double during this time of year, when there are a lot of people—who all might be at their worst—for them to deal with. We’ve all seen the headlines of Black Friday stampedes and the resultant injuries and deaths. But even if we discount those bizarre occurrences, we have to admit that many situations during this time of year are one temper tantrum away from a stress explosion.

I was reminded of this superpower we all have when I was out at a store last week. I was waiting to be helped when a customer yelled at a saleswoman for several minutes about something she couldn’t control or change. After he left, she turned away from the counter. Her shoulders shook, and she swiped below her eyes.

I stepped to the corner of the counter, held open my arms, and whispered. “Do you need a hug?”

She choked out a sob and nodded, and then she cried in my arms. I held her and told her that it wasn’t her fault and that she’d handled that situation the best she could.

From my perspective, I didn’t do anything special. I mean, it was just a hug and kind word. That’s something any one of us could have done.

But at the right time, at the right place, that “little thing” can have a big effect on someone else. We might never even know how much we affect others with our actions.

At the wrong time, an unkind word can ruin a day. But at the right time, a kind word can make everything better.

That’s a superpower—a superpower we all have. And as writers, we should be extra aware of our power. After all, many of us try to affect others with merely our written words. So we should recognize how much power we have in our spoken words and actions too.

I realized how important this power is after I posted about this incident on Facebook last week:

“So far this Christmas season, I’ve comforted a shaking, tearing-up saleswoman who’d just been unfairly berated by a customer. I asked if she needed a hug, and she nodded and sobbed in my arms for 5 minutes. … Then during today’s shopping trip, I found (and returned) a woman’s lost diamond wedding ring.”

Far, far, too many people gave me kudos for doing something special. That certainly wasn’t my intention, and in fact, that reaction made me sad. I don’t want to be singled out—and not just because I’m far from perfect. More importantly, what I did shouldn’t be uncommon.

Even the lost wedding ring was just a case of me being in the right place at the right time to hear a ping on the store’s flooring. Instead of ignoring the sound, I found the ring and returned it to the woman beside me who didn’t realize she’d dropped it while trying on jewelry. Again, no big deal.

But the fact so many saw my actions as unusual just makes my point stronger. Any little thing we do is more significant. We have more power to affect others than we think.

We know this. If we didn’t think we could affect others, many of us would write just for ourselves and not worry about readers at all. But we do hope our written words affect others. And in the same way, our in-person words or actions do affect others as well.

Maybe those of us who write can lead the way to making kindness a little less unusual:

  • We’re often more observant of other people, as we watch for story or character ideas, and we might notice when someone needs that kind word or deed.
  • We understand how we can influence others with our words.
  • We know how cause and effect works in our stories, and real life works the same way.

Something as simple as our smile or kind word might make the difference in how others interact with their families when they get home from work. Which might then affect how their families treat their neighbors. And so on. So maybe if we use our superpower for good, we can affect the world. *smile* And *hugs* to everyone!

Has a kind word or deed from a stranger ever really affected you or stuck with you? Do you think the stress of this time of year can bring out the worst in others? Have you seen especially bad or good behaviors from others? Do you try to spread kindness to others? Do you have suggestions for what we can do?

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Melinda
Melinda

Jami,
Thanks so much for this timely reminder of our superpowers! I agree that seeing your good deeds as unusual is sad. If we all strive to be the best versions of ourselves, I think the world would be a much happier place.
Thanks again for the reminder,
Melinda

Julie Glover

This is beautiful. Thanks so much for encouraging kindness in the crazy holiday season! Even that one person who waves me in front of her with a smile after I’ve been cut off 4,132 times in holiday traffic seems like a godsend.

Blessings and Merry Christmas!

Lucy Lit

Well said, Jami! The older I get, the more I look around and shake my head. Kindness and smiles are renewable and limitless resources we don’t utilize as much as we should. Their impact on me is truly profound and I try to pass it on.

Caoimhe McCabe

Dear Jami,

as always, you are awesome! Thanks for writing your fabulous blog, I read every article and always learn something useful. I wish you and yours a merry and peaceful Christmas and a great 2015.

Caoimhe

Christina Hawthorne

Good for you, Jami. Though I always try to share a smile, at this time of year I consider it my duty as a human being to be extra friendly to anyone providing me service. I know what unthinking, unkind people put them through. Recently I told a cashier that her performance was above and beyond what I’d seen in at least ten years. The brightness that came over her features was enough to last me through the entire season. Merry Christmas!

Beth Irwin
Beth Irwin

Wouldn’t the world be an intriguing place if we all wished BETTER for the other person than ourselves?

Leslie Bird Nuccio
Leslie Bird Nuccio

Great article, Jami! I love to leave sticky notes on mirrors in women’s bathrooms with affirmations like, “You are Beautiful!” or “Rejoice in your uniqueness!”. I have no idea if they bring a smile to anyone, but I hope they do. I worked in retail years ago and vowed to never be ugly to the person across the counter. Like you said, they don’t make the rules, and most of the time whatever has angered you wasn’t their fault. My favorite mantra in all aspects of my life is, “Compassion costs you nothing.” Of course, feeling that way makes it harder to understand the reasons why when we get in a foster dog who has obviously been abused.

Kit Dunsmore

Just re-read Dicken’s Christmas Carol and in it he mentions that on Christmas Day everyone is a little kinder to everyone else. It happened to me today, when the guy who pulled up next to me in the grocery store parking lot said he didn’t need a cart but he would be happy to take mine back for me anyway. He gave me a huge genuine smile, and it felt so good to pass him my cart, get into the car, and out of the wind. He reminded me how easy it is to be nice to one another and how much pleasanter life is when we are.

Glynis Jolly

You are a dear person.

Wishing you good cheer and tidings during this season. <3

Joanna Aislinn

LOVED this post, Jami. (It gave me chills, it was so heartfelt and lovely.)

Just today I posted about “good will” toward all truly being “the greatest gift of all.” What you shared in this post about your episode is a wonderful illustration of that. Thank you.

All the best to you and yours during this holiday season. Something tells me the gifts of your hug, words, time and comfort will be long remembered by a very stressed worker. God bless you.

Nancy Novel-Lover

So true, so beautiful… thanks so much! <3

Onita
Onita

An excellent post!! I’ve heard it said that it takes more muscles in one’s face to smile than to frown. Personally, I always love to smile–there’s even a hint of that within the word, “smile”!!

Deborah Makarios

I will always remember the young woman who noticed that both of my pens had run out of ink half-way through the PolSci exam. Speaking is forbidden, so she just pushed one of her spares over to me. She finished up and left before I did, so I never got the chance to thank her.

Serena Yung
Serena Yung

Hey Jami, this post reminded me of a commercial I saw recently during the commercial time before the movie at a theater! It’s called something like: make just one person happy. :D. This was supposed to be a Christmas message, but definitely we should have this attitude even during non-Christmas time, so I completely agree with you! Oh yeah, nowadays I try to smile as sweetly/ friendlily as possible when I go pay at the counter. This wasn’t a conscious effort to make people happy, but it was just a new habit I picked up from certain people in my life, but now I see that it’s a superpower I can use to brighten up someone’s day. 😀 Ooh I like the picking up stuff people accidentally drop too. Someone dropped their scarf recently in the library; I whisper-shouted to her but she didn’t hear me, so I picked it up and rushed to catch up to her, patted her shoulder and gave it to her. There have also been a lot of times when I accidentally dropped my coat or something and someone told me. 😀 Another tiny act of kindness is when someone in front of you has an unzipped backpack and you tap them on the shoulder and tell them. All very easy to do and it helps people, though there have been times when I told the person, and the person said, “No worries, I wanted to keep it open like this.” XDD But apart from…  — Read More »

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[…] couple of years ago, I mentioned that we all have the power to make someone’s day better, simply by being kind. Especially during this time of year—when people are stressed and […]

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