Sometimes profound advice and insights can come from unlikely places.
Recently, I breakfasted in the Atlanta Crowne Plaza Hotel executive lounge. Addice, the attending concierge, conversed with me while I ate. She was a twenty-something, slender, attractive black woman from Ethiopia. Not having much opportunity to interact with Ethiopians — at least beyond the occasional cab driver — I asked about her homeland.
She was from a middle-class village and came to the US for college. While she liked living in the US, she said she missed home. I asked, “What do you miss about home?” Expecting she’d say her family and friends, I was surprised by her answer.
Little had I thought I’d be getting a lesson on love from this young woman. “What do you mean?”
“At home, villagers know how to love each other.”
“How is it different there than here?”
“If a unmarried man is sick, neighbors take turns bringing him food. If a woman is widowed, my parents would often share food with her. Or send us to do chores for her. If a family had lots of small children, older kids in the neighborhood would play with the little ones to give the parents a rest. We showed each other our love on a daily basis, not just within our immediately family.”
“There are lots of examples of that in the US,” I told her. But upon reflection, I realized there were also many examples of neighbors not ever having spoken, or knowing each other’s names. In close-knit neighborhoods, it is common that you look out for each other. But I think her description was more pervasive than not.
The conversation haunted me as I returned home. I began to ponder how I could have a more Ethiopian approach to showing those around me my love for them. How could I show not only my family and friends, but my neighbors and neighborhood shopkeepers that I cared about them? The acts of consideration didn’t have to be big — a phone call to a sick neighbor to see if she needed anything at the store, a compliment to a neighborhood retailer on her selection of goods, loaning a neighbor a coffee pot for her party. While these actions may be commonplace to some, in other areas they are rare. I wanted to be a part of community where people proactively showed their care.
How do these mini acts of kindness carry over to dating? You increase your consciousness of doing thoughtful things for the other, or sincerely saying things that you know will be well received. You show your caring through myriad warmhearted gestures. While there’s no expectation of reciprocity, thoughtful deeds do come your way.
So while Addice’s perception may be somewhat accurate, I think no matter how good we are at showing our love for others we can always get better. In addition to those who you regularly show your love, who could you illustrate love — or at least caring — to today? Being Valentine’s Day, this is a great day to start. But work to show a niceness to an acquaintance or stranger every day, not just once a year. I’m going to bet this love that you are spreading will come back to you tenfold.