Tag Archives: Kindness

How to Make Shy People Come and Talk to You

Monday Blogs Photo

Photo credit: isthattheguy.

Someone found this blog over the weekend by doing a search for how to make shy people come and talk to you. I thought it would make a great subject for today’s post as I’m shy in real life until I’ve gotten to know someone pretty well.

Take your pet for a walk. I often find it difficult to start conversations with strangers or acquaintances, but that hesitancy disappears when there’s an animal in the mix.  I virtually never touch them due how terribly allergic I am to cats and dogs, but I sure do enjoy seeing a happy, healthy little creature out and about with their human. Telling someone that their pet is gorgeous, smart, or well trained is a great ice breaker.

Compliment them. Speaking of compliments, people often welcome them as well. I generally praise what someone has created – a book; a song; a clever joke; a beautifully decorated cupcake – instead of stuff they only have some control over such as their appearance. There’s less of a chance of them taking that compliment the wrong way. Also, everyone has at least one talent if you search long enough.

Ask open ended questions. For example, what are you looking forward to this summer? That kind of question can be interpreted as specifically or generally as someone wants. They could talk about that blockbuster they can’t wait to see or they could mention something far more personal if they chose. I usually like talking about stuff that isn’t your typical small talk, but I also appreciate having the option of keeping things lighthearted and non-specific if I choose.

Talk about what you love. I’m never going to be the kind of person who enjoys watching sporting events or drinking beer, but I still get a kick out of hearing why other people find that stuff so entertaining. You can learn a lot about someone by listening to them talk about their passions and interests.

Be kind. I find it much easier to open up and chat with kind people. We might not talk about a lot the first time they talk to me, but the second and third conversations can be much longer and more interesting if I walk away with a good first impression of them. I really dislike it when people try to pull me out of my shell the first time they meet me. If they let our interactions evolve naturally instead, they’ll get much more out of me in the future. From what I’ve observed of other shy people, I suspect that a lot of them are the same way.

Now I want to hear what’s worked for you! Let me know in the comments.

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How the Worst Moments in Our Lives Makes Us Who We Are

If the embedded video doesn’t play, click here.

This is a 20 minute talk about how people find meaning in their own suffering without relying on supernatural or religious explanations for it. If you don’t want to watch the whole thing, try skipping through the first half. The last 5-10 minutes is where this talk gets really good.

Andrew Solomon acknowledges that you can do this while still being really angry about what happened. You don’t have to say something is at all ok in order to find meaning in it.

Here is where I disagree with Andrew. I understand why he focuses so much on the circumstances that have spurred people into doing amazing things, but the former is much less important than the latter.  This is a minor quibble with an otherwise invigorating talk, though, and I suspect that he’d agree with me if we were sitting down to dinner. It’s hard to compress this kind of worldview into such a short amount of time.


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The Cupboard Mice: A Parable

Mice_(1)Originally posted on February 21, 2013.

A family of mice once lived in a drafty old farmhouse.

“They’re going to set a trap and we’re all going to die!” the oldest mouse squeaked every time someone forgot the rules: no squeaking, don’t leave droppings on the dishes, and never capture the cat’s attention. No one remembered what a trap was any longer, only that it was something terrible people did when they noticed mice.

As the family grew it became more difficult to follow the rules.

“We’ll be safe in this house if we teach the young mice that cheese is forbidden,” the oldest mouse insisted every time the humans shuffled into the kitchen. They’d lived in this farmhouse for decades and had begun to have trouble moving around.

A young mouse asked, “What makes you think there’s any danger? The humans don’t even seem to know we exists.”

“Not yet,” said the oldest mouse. “But the cat can smell us. Why do you think we avoid his territory?”

The young mouse wasn’t sure she believed it was that dangerous and decided to explore the rest of the house. The cat in question was old and docile.

“You’re all going to die!” insisted the oldest mouse as the rest of her nestlings slowly moved out of the kitchen and closer to the radiators. The humans had grown accustomed to leaving dirty plates on the floor and so the wanderers had food and a warm place to sleep during the long winter. Soon she was the only mouse left in the kitchen.

Every week or two the younger mice came to visit. She always made sure they knew how dangerous their lives had become since moving away. Some of her visitors smiled politely and nibbled the stale crackers she provided, others tried to gently reason with her. No one could change her mind, though, and she died at the first flush of spring without any of her warnings coming to pass.



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What One Thing Would You Change?


Photo by Diether.

Another reader question today: What one thing would you change if you had to do it over again?

She was an odd duck.

Before and after class she muttered to herself. Her straight, uncombed, bright yellow hair stood on end as if she’d just received a static shock and her clothing, while fairly clean, was mismatched and several sizes too big. 

Sometimes she’d follow along with the conversation. At other times she slipped in and out of our plans for the weekend, summer or life after community college like a koi jumping out of an aquarium and then wondering what happened to all of the water. Her favourite topic was her pets. They understood her in ways people didn’t and she spent all of her free time with them. I have a vague memory of her mentioning out loud once after class how different her bond with her pets was from her fragile connections with other human beings.

She never understood why other people found her abrupt tone, odd mannerisms and non-standard use of the English language so bizarre.

I never said or did anything unkind to her. After a few aborted conversations I barely spoke to her at all.

I wish I had.

I wish I still remembered her name.

I wish she could have gotten some help. Her isolation (and loneliness?) was a skinny, brown puppy huddled in the corner waiting to be named.

I wish.

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Small Kindnesses Blogsplash

Today I’m participating in a synchroblog on small kindnesses to help Fiona Robyn celebrate the release of her new book. 

I was 11 years old the first time it happened.

Pain blots away the past and future. There was only one moment that had ever existed and it was wrapped up in an intestine-curling, breath-stealing, sweat-beading illness that swooped into my life without warning.

Eventually an elimination diet helped me realize that my body was having serious issues with milk products. The less I ate dairy products the better I felt but rural Ohio in the 1990s was not an easy place to have food allergies.

There were few milk alternatives back then and even fewer people who understood that people with food allergies aren’t being picky.

Enter Mrs. C., my computer science and word processing teacher. At the end of the year she was also a chaperone for a field trip I went on with a dozen classmates. On the way home she treated us to ice cream. There was nothing on the menu I could eat so I quietly didn’t order anything.

She noticed right away and asked me why I wasn’t eating. I told her about my allergy and she grew quiet.

The field trip was on a Friday. That following Monday she called me to her desk at the end of class and gave me some colourful sticky notepads. She said she was sorry I couldn’t have ice cream but that I deserved some kind of treat.

I was so touched that she’d thought of me and gone out of her way to be inclusive.

Even all these years later her kindness makes me smile.



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How to Rediscover Your Sense of Wonder

With his permission today I’m blogging a response to a semi-recent tweet from @mike_friesen :

Somedays, I wonder how I can rediscover the beauty seen through the eyes of a child without the naivete. I want wonder and awe with wisdom. [sic]

This is what I’d recommend:

1. Stop watching commercials.  There’s something about advertising that seems to dull creativity and playfulness. Instead of being happy with what I do have commercials make me think I need stuff that five minutes ago I didn’t even want. This doesn’t mean you have to stop watching your favourite shows…just hit the mute button, fast-forward through them or go take a washroom break.

2. Show someone around. Last week my uncle was in town. Drew and spent an afternoon with him walking around some of the best part of Toronto and it was amazing to me how many details of our city that I stopped noticing a long time ago surprised or amused him.

3. Read a book. As much of a cliche as this is to type a good story can transport you to worlds you never even knew existed. Need author suggestions? Leave a comment and I’ll see what I can do.

Photo by A4gpa.

4. Go for a walk and ask questions. Why was(n’t) that building torn down? Who chose the name of this street? To where does this trail lead? What scent is tickling my dog’s nose? There are so many untold stories on even the most ordinary walk.5.

5. Seek out kindred spirits. That is, spend more time with the people in your life who understand what you’re doing and less with those who think you’re being childish or silly. Any adult who thinks being practical and not asking too many questions is the best response to the mysteries of life isn’t someone with whom I’d want to spend a great deal of time anyway.

“Miss Barry was a kindred spirit after all,” Anne confided to Marilla, “You wouldn’t think so to look at her, but she is. . . Kindred spirits are not so scarce as I used to think. It’s splendid to find out there are so many of them in the world.”
― L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables


What would you tell Mike?


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The Problem with Food Drives

This was originally published on December 13, 2010. I’ve been sick the last few days but should  have a new post written for Thursday, September 27.  – Lydia

From a recent poster at our apartment building about a food drive that the office staff hosts every December:

“not all families and their children are as fortunate as we are….”

Fortunate. Now there’s a word. Before I proceed any further of course it’s good to donate to charity and share with people who don’t have enough food, clothing or other necessities. This is one of the most vital pieces of our humanity. Without it we’re not fully human.

However I do have a problem with the way that altruism is presented this time of year. I’ve spent a fair amount of timetyping and retyping this paragraph in an attempt to boil down my objections into several neat sentences. The picture on your right explains part of it. Helping the less fortunate, whatever else it may be, is a one-way street:

They need.

We have.

They receive.

We give.

January rolls around again….and we forget?

There’s no longterm relationship there, no sense of the myriad of ways in which each one of us has been, is or will be an unfortunate in one way or another. There’s also no understand of how an unfortunate can be charitable to us.

It also ignores the people behind the amount of fortune carried by every one of us. As a child my family was for several years what this poster called unfortunate. That is, we lived in a trailer park for a few of them and money was so tight that it squeaked, groaned, all but completely unravelled between paycheques. On paper it would have appeared that our parents barely had the funds to support themselves much less look after their three young children.

Yet to define those years by how much we did or did not have misses the mark entirely. Even in the most difficult times in life no one can be defined solely by that with which they’re struggling. We weren’t the numbers in our bank account or the food in our fridge. We were people first. And second. And third.

Yes, I know I’m taking this pretty seriously. There’s no doubt in my mind that those who organize food drives mean nothing but the best and I’m grateful for all of their hard work and personal dedication to the well-being of strangers.

I just cannot be ethically comfortable with an economic or social system that separates us so thoroughly that entire social classes become abstractions. Charitable donations and annual food drives are a good temporary fix; building reciprocal relationships with other human beings and transitioning the way we think about others from that anonymous group of people to my good friend is how we’re actually going to begin to help people step out of tough situations (or to stop stereotyping, demeaning or dismissing people who need help) in the first place.

One More Problem

I’ve thought about it for a few weeks now and still cannot figure out how I would reword this:

not all families and their children are as fortunate as we are….

in such a way that it removed the barrier between those who are donating or offering help and those who are accepting the assistance of others. There must be a good way to communicate this shift in perception on a food drive poster. I just don’t know what that way would look like or how best to translate it into something snappy.


What do you think? Can you come up with a better way to communicate the need for donations without creating this separation between the unfortunate and the rest of us? Is it even something one should be concerned with when creating something like a poster that is not intended to be a treatise on this subject?

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You Don’t Have to Like Everyone

Painting by _bobi bobi.

Recently a friend and I had a conversation about the difference between treating others with respect and liking them as people. My friend was worried about disliking someone they knew for what I consider to be quite valid reasons.

I reassured my friend that it’s ok not to like everyone you meet.  After all, friendship isn’t a synonym for being friendly.

Friendship is reciprocal. I can’t be your friend if you’re uninterested in being mine and the only way the relationship can be sustained is if both of us put effort into it.  It doesn’t matter how much two people have in common as long as both of them are emotionally invested in the relationship and trust one another.

Friendly behaviour is a one-way street. Treating others with the respect, kindness and common courtesy everyone deserves has nothing to do with what you actually think of them or how they treat you. It’s simply good manners to treat other people with the care you’d want them to show you.

Every one of us has no doubt liked some of the people we meet more than others. With seven billion other human beings running around this planet there’s bound to be a few that don’t appeal to you for many different reasons – a personality clash,  value systems that don’t mesh well together, or incompatible interests.

I don’t know where the idea came from that we are obligated to like everyone but I don’t see anything wrong with acknowledging how we really feel as long as those emotions are not used as an excuse to be rude.


What do you think?




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I Don’t Care About Your Politics

I don’t care about your politics.

I don’t care about your religious beliefs.

I don’t care if you do file your taxes before the deadline, separate your trash from recyclables or return your library books on time.

Wait, scratch that. I do care if you return your library books on time if I’m sitting patiently in their queues. Otherwise keep them as long as you’d like. Just don’t complain about the fines to the library clerk when you do return them. 😉

If I were to gather a few dozen of my favourite people in the world into one room you’d look around and think, “how did he end up here?” or “Wait, Lydia is friends with her?”

But dig deeper. Love is my religion.

Be liberal or conservative. Be agnostic, atheist or theist. Be straight, gay, bi or asexual. Be apathetic to any or all of these things.

But whatever you are, be love.




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3 Things I’ve Learned as a Book Critic

Lajos Tihanyi’s The Critic.

About a month ago I began writing book reviews under a pseudonym for another website.

It’s been an amazing experience so far. I love combing through the review database and finding short stories and books to read. It’s exhilarating to discover new authors and even a new genre – I’m just now realizing how much I love a well-written mystery. In the past it’s always been a section of the library or bookstore that I’d overlooked.

Here are a few things I’ve learned from my first month of reviewing:

Be kind. It’s so easy to be snarky. (Or at least it is for me ;)). I’ve learned that there are many ways to effectively review a short story or novel that stirs up mixed emotions – you loved X but had reservations about Y, you don’t understand why Z happened.

Tone matters. What might come across as a light-hearted jab or playful phrase in real life can be interpreted in a much harsher light when you only have the written word. I try to sandwich even strong criticisms between praise for this reason.

Be honest. Of course sugar-coating your opinions doesn’t work either. Some stories are  more interesting or well-written that others.  There are polite ways to get this across but it isn’t helpful to pretend to enjoy something that you actually disliked.

And not liking something doesn’t mean that it’s a bad book! I refuse to read sentimental stories. I have a friend who hates science fiction and another friend who cannot stomach sexually explicit romance novels. Asking any of us to give an honest critique of these genres would be foolish. We’d have so little to recommend about them.

Be compassionate. Someday someone will (hopefully) review the short stories and book I’ve been working on. As excited as I am to share some of these things with the outside world later on in 2012 I’m also nervous. Will others like my work? Will they understand my sense of humour?

I hope that the people who review my stories remember that they were written by another human being and that I put weeks, months, or years of effort into what they’re reading. In the meantime I try to catch glimpses of the authors behind the stuff I review.

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