I caught her hunched over silhouette out of the corner of my eye as I passed by the dormitory kitchen. She was obviously not feeling well as she cooked soup on the stove. She leaned forward and clutched the oven handle with clenched jaw, concentrating to overcome immense pain.
As one of the Residents Assistant’s (RA), it was my job to ensure the safety and protection of the girls in the building. I took my job seriously and followed the rules to the letter, all in the name of safety and protection.
Yet, there was nothing in the RA handbook that outlined how to deal with what I was witnessing. I continued walking past the kitchen and headed toward my room, a battle going on in my head.
What should I say? How could I help? I’m the RA, I’m supposed to know what to do.
But I didn’t.
So I kept walking, acting like I didn’t see her struggle, and the responsibilities of college life eventually dulled my embarrassment and shame of not knowing what to do and quieted the conviction that she needed help.
A year later, the memory faded and the tables turned. I received a phone call that my dad was in a coma and on life support.
I was the RA on duty and as such I was responsible for staying in the dorm and covering the front desk. I desperately wanted to be with my family and see my father. Yet, in the same way I didn’t know how to address other’s pain, I also didn’t know how to reach out when I experienced pain.
One of the deans walked by the front desk and noticed something was wrong, despite my best efforts to cover it up. She came over, put her hand gently on my arm, and asked me of everything was okay.
The tears welled up and I sobbed through a broken explanation. She gave me a hug and said, “Let’s get you to your father.”
She made a couple calls and got coverage for my responsibilities. I was driving to the hospital within 20 minutes.
She didn’t say much. She didn’t do much, as she simply acted upon the existing back up schedule.
But I felt her kindness.
A vision of the girl clutching the oven handle arose before my mind’s eye. Now I know what I would have done. I would have shown kindness.
I would have stepped into the kitchen. I would have retrieved a bowl for her soup. I would have told her to sit down, walk, or whatever she needed to do while I finished making the soup. I would have acknowledged her struggle.
This life is a struggle. Many have become discouraged and some are about to give up.
One word of cheer can work wonders.
Strength we know not of lies in kindness.
The thing with kindness is that it doesn’t come naturally to many. Self, pride, uncertainty, and many other things get in the way of kindness.
In addition, society says kindness equates to weakness, while leadership is often viewed as strength and certainty. Because of this apparent discrepancy, people in leadership roles have a hard time showing kindness.
It just takes that first step.
I’m sure if I had stopped to enter the kitchen the next steps would have come easier. I didn’t have to know what I was going to do and have a plan. I just had to step inside the room and be with her.
Unless there is practical self-sacrifice for the good of those for whom we are responsible, we are not leaders.