To live is to be forced to confront the reality of negative people. To live more fully is to learn to overcome this and other negativity in our lives. This is not some Hobbesian view of our brief time here on this planet, but an acknowledgment that life will involve challenges, sometimes as a result of our own thinking and focus or circumstances beyond our control, at other times as a result of the actions of others.
So it was the other evening in a hotel adjacent to Los Angeles International Airport where I had arrived late at night after a day of work to begin some vacation. All was well until 1 a.m. when what sounded like a small army of college students arrived in the room next door, fresh from the bar and determined to continue the party – complete with a 2:30 a.m. rousing sing-a-long of Billy Joel’s “Piano Man” clearly audible over my now-donned, noise-cancelling headphones.
I was furious. “This is not how my vacation is supposed to begin,” I muttered to myself. My sweetheart was blissfully asleep and, not wanting to be a complainer, I put a pillow over my head and tried, again, to muffle the off-key singing. “This is a First World problem Mudd, get over it.”
Then I remembered a scene from a different hotel just the week prior. My daughter and I had stopped for a dessert to conclude her spring break. As we sat next to each other watching the basketball tournament on television and sharing a piece of cake, a woman approached and tapped me on the shoulder. “I hope you do not think this is really weird,” she began. “But I’ve been watching the two of you playfully interact from across the room for a while now and I just wanted to show you both this photo I took of the two of you – you look so much alike – and to tell her how lucky she is to have a dad like you and how lucky you are to have a daughter like her.” Then she walked away.
I was blown away. What she did not know was that we had changed our spring break plans because of some dad-daughter disciplinary matters and that this was the end of a very stripped-down vacation as a result. I had immense dad guilt. “Did I do the right thing?” “Am I a good parent?” “Should I have picked a different consequence?” Those had been the questions dogging my own mind as I sat there with my daughter. In a moment, this stranger changed all of that.
Back in my hotel room at LAX I thought about the college kids in the next room, possibly on their own spring break, unaware in their youth that their actions had consequences for others, or perhaps not caring. And then, again, I gravitated to this stranger in another hotel who, not knowing my own thoughts at that moment, did know that the kind words she shared likely would make a difference to me and my daughter.
That juxtaposition reminded me of some of the writing of the late Wayne Dyer on energy and the “vibrations” we send into the world. Perhaps it’s a bit mystical for some, but in summarizing research into this concept, Dyer once wrote that we can each choose to project positive energy or low energy into our world and “[b]y raising your own frequency of vibration only slightly to a place where you regularly practice kindness, love, and receptivity, and where you see beauty and the endless potential of good in others as well as yourself, you counterbalance 90,000 people somewhere on this planet who are living in the low-energy levels of shame, anger, hatred, guilt, despair, and depression.”
So there I was in my room, quite literally vibrating with the negative energy and music coming from next door, yet this complete stranger had changed my state, not only in that moment a week before, but by providing me a positive energy reserve a week later to counterbalance a group of negative strangers. As I finally drifted off to sleep, I thought to myself that, perhaps, Dyer’s summary of this theory was accurate.
Today, as I sit outside in another hotel reflecting on this experience and now enjoying my vacation, I am reminded that, as trite as it may sound, by simple acts of kindness we can all help each other overcome the negativity that will, undoubtedly, entire our lives. My problem was truly a First World one, embarrassingly small in the big picture of lives filled with many challenges, most infinitely larger than rowdy college kids in a hotel. But it reminds us all to do something kind for someone each day, even someone we do not know. You never know the difference it may make to that person and by implication, perhaps, to all of us.