When I was a young girl, we had a neighbor who was a wretched old lady. She was what one would call an equal opportunity hater; she hated everyone. Except for me, she didn't hate me as much as she hated other people. It wasn't because I was an adorable little girl, though I was absolutely adorable. The difference was, I started being friendly to Miss Helen, while most of the neighborhood either ignored her or was as hateful to her as she was to them.
I wasn't a saintly child; I don't want you to think I was an adorable little cherub who spread joy and love around the neighborhood. I was actually quite mischievous and got into more trouble than most, but I chose to be nice to Miss Helen. Often, my friends and family asked why I was being nice to such a foul woman. One seemingly insignificant episode changed the way I treated Miss Helen. I saw her putting food out for animals of all types: strays, squirrels, and birds. I have been an animal lover my entire life. Miss Helen feeding animals made me think a little better of her. I started to smile at her when I saw her on the street, and I would wave or say hi.
For the first few weeks, Miss Helen walked by with her customary scowl on her face. Then, one day, she seemed to grimace a bit, and I took that as a pseudo smile. From there, the smile became a bit more pronounced until she began to chat with me for a few brief moments. The best thing Miss Helen said to me was, "You're not as unlikable as most children." It was hysterical!
Miss Helen and I never became really close, nor did she have a Scrooge moment and become the sweetest lady in the neighborhood. She was a hateful old wench until the day she died, but she was my friend. Despite all of her unbecoming qualities, she took care of animals that most ignored - maybe because she knew what it felt like to be ignored.
I didn't realize I was learning a lifelong lesson when I chose to treat Miss Helen with kindness. I did it because she was being kind to animals, and in my ten-year-old mind, that made her a little less rotten.
Some people have been so hurt that it manifests as bitterness toward the world; some are just raised to be hateful. While I don't typically associate with people who support hate, I do always choose kindness when I have the option. I believe that kindness and love always win when you live your life with them at the forefront.
When I would get a smile from Miss Helen, it made me feel good, and to this day, I feel that way when I get a smile from an unhappy person. For example, when the cashier at the grocery is rude, I'm always a little nicer. Almost without fail, the cashier warms up and is smiling by the time I leave. That's the reward! I know that a miserable human being felt valued or appreciated for a few brief moments.
It makes me feel good to be friendly, and I feel even better when I've made someone else feel good. It costs nothing to be kind, but the reward is priceless.