One kind word can warm three winter months. – Japanese Proverb
What does that mean?
This quote, like many metaphors, has much to imply. Starting with the core of it, the one kind word.
The one kind word is the nice thing you say to a loved one, a friend, a neighbor, or even a complete stranger. It might be more than one word, or it might just be a gesture or even a smile.
Three months of winter, in the parts of the world outside the tropics, is quite a thing to experience. The cold can be anywhere from annoying to life-threatening.
It is this that the kind word can warm. In reality, it does nothing to the actual temperature of those winter months, but it’s a metaphor, so it doesn’t have to. It just needs to warm you heart a little.
Why is a kind word important?
Again, while the quote specifies a single word, I would like to expand it to include multiple words, as well as the act, gesture, or even just a look, which can warm someone’s winter without saying a word. Kind words are what children thrive on, yet somehow as adults, we forget to say them to each-other.
The warmth generated inside a person, while not necessarily measurable by science, is quite measurable to the people who hear it. And such words have a tendency to multiply and propagate out to people you have never met. It really can be that powerful. The opposite, of course, is also true, unkind words can travel far as well.
By staying focused on the kind words and avoiding the unkind, we can help others feel better, or in the context of the quote feel warmer. And, at least in my experience, it also has the ability to help the speaker of the kindness also feel warmer. I believe we all have experienced this effect at some point in our lives, both from kind and unkind words.
The importance is in our feelings and the feelings of others. While my primary circle is logic and facts, feelings also have a place in our lives. And what we say and do can have a profound impact on others, both near and far. Theirs can also have impact on us, like ripples in a pond, even if we have never met them.
Where can I apply this in my life?
Take a moment and consider what impact the kindness of others has meant to you, be it from a word, words, looks, actions or gestures. Starting with family and friends, when you were a child. Consider also the unkind words, looks, actions and gestures you may have encountered. How much impact did they have?
How much warmer were your winters when kindness was shown, and how much colder was it when unkindness was shown instead? Now think of your teens and the rest of your life since then. How has kindness and unkindness impacted you and your temperature in the winter of life? Even in the summer of life, the unkind words can be cold, and not the slightest bit relieving.
What of the times you were kind to others? Did you feel the warmth within yourself as well? And when you were unkind, how did that make you feel inside? Yes, you may have done so out of pain, anger or hurt, but later, when you had a chance to consider your actions, how did you feel then? Was it warm or a bitter form of cold?
If you life was anything like mine, you probably had plenty of examples of both types of behavior on your part, and on the part of others. I found that, overall, I want to try to emphasize doing kindness to others as much as possible, and to avoid being unkind whenever possible. What about you and your experience?
But why should one try to behave in that way? I do it for both the feelings I get from being kind, as well as the feelings others get when I am kind to them. It’s nice to see their face light up, and that not only makes them feel better, but it makes me feel warm inside as well, just like the quote says.
How difficult is it to be kind to another? That depends on your habits, and to some extent, the other person. If you tend to be a cheery or happy person, being kind to others may already be your default action. For others, their habits might not lean towards kindness, but towards apathy or antipathy.
But what about the other person? When might “who the other person is” matter? Are there people you just don’t have a kind word for? Can you at least be quiet, until you can develop the strength to forgive them? Can you find something kind to say, even if you don’t like them, or they’re total jerks?
We all have seasons, and we all spend time in winter, regardless of what the weather outside may be. Be kind to others, and warm them in their winter. Do it to help them, and to help you. If you take some time for reflection, I believe you will find that you both deserve it.