There is no exercise better for your heart than
reaching down and lifting others up.
Today, as I was sitting on the edge of a cliff at a local park, staring off into the distance and thinking about my day, I turned around to see a young lady who was almost in tears slowly walking down to where I was sitting. I got up, walked up to her and asked, “What’s wrong?” She told me she was deathly afraid of heights, but was worried about me and wanted to get over her fear because I looked lonely sitting by myself, and she wanted to make sure I was OK and in a healthy state of mind.
Her name is Kate, and her braveness and kindness blew my mind.
I spent the rest of the day thinking about what an extraordinary person Kate is and about what it means to be extraordinary. Above all, I think, extraordinary people give generously in numerous ways. Specifically, they give others…
1. Reliable, sincere support.
The closest thing to being cared for is to care for others. We are all in this together and we should treat each other as such. The very demons that torment each of us, torment others all over the world. It is our challenges and troubles that connect us at the deepest level.
If you think about the people who have had the greatest positive effect on your life – the ones who truly made a difference – you will likely realize that they aren’t the ones that tried to give you all the answers or solve all your problems. They’re the ones who sat silently with you when you needed a moment to think, who lent you a shoulder when you needed to cry, and who tolerated not having all the answers, but stood beside you anyway. Be this person for those around you every chance you get.
2. Undivided attention and focus.
There is greatness and beauty in making time, especially when it’s inconvenient, for the sake of someone nearby.
You don’t have to tell people that you care, just show them. In your relationships and interactions with others, nothing you can give is more appreciated than your sincere, focused attention. Being with someone, listening without a clock and without anticipation of results is the ultimate compliment. It is indeed the most valued gesture you can make to another human being.
When we pay attention to each other we breathe new life into each other. With frequent attention and affection our relationships flourish, and we as individuals grow wiser and stronger. We help heal each other’s wounds and support each other’s growth. So give someone the gift of YOU – your time, undivided attention and kindness. That’s better than any other gift, it won’t break or get lost, and will always be remembered. (Marc and I discuss this in more detail in the “Relationships” chapter of 1,000 Little Things Happy, Successful People Do Differently.)
3. The freedom to be themselves.
Life’s greatest privilege is to become who you truly are. You have to dare to be yourself, one hundred percent, however anxious or odd that self may prove to be. The people who support you in doing so are extraordinary. Appreciate these people and their kindness, and pay it forward when you’re able.
Never bully someone into silence. Never victimize others for being different. Accept no one’s close-minded definition of another person. Let people define themselves. You have the ability to show people how awesome they are, just the way they are. So act on this ability without hesitation; and don’t forget to show yourself the same courtesy.
4. Their willingness to be open-minded and wrong.
The mind is like a parachute; it doesn’t work when it’s closed.
It’s okay to disagree with the thoughts or opinions expressed by others. But that doesn’t give you the right to immediately reject any sense they might make. Nor does it give you a right to accuse someone of poorly expressing their beliefs just because you don’t like what they are thinking and saying. Learn to recognize the beauty of different ideas and perspectives, even if it means overcoming your pride and opening your mind beyond what is comfortable.
Healthy relationships and human interactions are not a power struggle. Be willing to be wrong, while simultaneously exploring your truth. (Read The Four Agreements.)
5. A voice of inspiration and positivity.
If you attach to the negative behavior of others, it brings you and everyone close to you down to their level. Stay positive when negativity surrounds you. Smile when others frown. It’s an easy way to make a difference. Every time words are spoken, something is created. Be conscious of what you say and how you say it. Use words that build up, appreciate, encourage and inspire.
It’s your job to inspire and motivate others, to feed another’s senses with the ideas and endeavors that move you. Inspiration and positivity begets inspiration and positivity times infinity. Imagine if the people who were inspired to create the light bulb, the telephone, and the personal computer didn’t share it with the world.
6. Recognition and praise.
A brave, extraordinary soul recognizes the strength of others. Give genuine praise whenever possible. Doing so is a mighty act of service. Start noticing what you like about others and speak up. Having an appreciation for how amazing the people around you are is extremely rewarding. It’s an investment in them that doesn’t cost you a thing, and the returns can be astounding. Not only will they feel empowered, but also what goes around comes around, and sooner or later the people you’re cheering for will start cheering for you too.
Also, be sure to follow this rule: “Praise in public, penalize in private.” Never publicly ridicule someone when you have the option not to. If you don’t understand someone, ask questions. If you don’t agree with them, tell them. But don’t judge them behind their back to everyone else.
7. The compassion and space to save face.
What others say and do is often based entirely on their own self-reflection. When someone who is angry and upset speaks to you, and you nevertheless remain very present and continue to treat them with kindness and respect, you place yourself in a position of great power. You become a means for the situation to be graciously diffused and healed.
A Zen teacher once told me, “When somebody backs themselves into a corner, look the other way until they get themselves out; and then act as though it never happened.” Allowing people to save face in this way, and not reminding them of what they already know is not their most intelligent behavior, is an act of great kindness. This is possible when we realize that people behave in such ways because they are in a place of great suffering. People react to their own thoughts and feelings and their behavior often has nothing directly to do with you. (Read Buddha’s Brain.)
8. Gentleness and consideration.
Be gentle and compassionate with those around you. Mother Nature opens millions of flowers every day without forcing the buds. Let this be a reminder not to be forceful with those around you, but to simply give them enough light and love, and an opportunity to grow naturally.
Ultimately, how far you go in life depends on your willingness to be helpful to the young, respectful to the aged, tender with the hurt, supportive of the striving, and tolerant of those who are weaker or stronger than the majority. Because we wear many hats throughout the course of our lives, and at some point in your life you will have been all of these people.
The difference between ordinary people and extraordinary people is the word “extra.” As Anne Frank once said, “No one has ever become poor by giving.” Whenever you can, go out of your way and do something nice and unexpected for those around you, especially those who may never be able to repay you. Be the “extra” in extraordinary.
In your mind, what makes a person extraordinary? What else do extraordinary people give to others? Leave us a comment below and share your thoughts.
Photo by: Jesslee Cuizon