Always remember that kindness is contagious

We all have our favourite stores—the grocery store, a special clothing store, a favourite bookstore. I especially like shopping at K-Mart.
I buy videotapes and video players. Office supplies and kitchen supplies. Martha Stewart sheets and towels. Lubriderm and Healing Garden bath products.
K-Mart combines quality with good prices, and that lilting “Thanks for shopping at K-Mart” always makes me feel good. After shopping, I sometimes sit down for a quick cup of coffee.
But yesterday was different.
After K-Mart’s financial troubles were announced, we hoped our local store would be not closed. But that turned out to be a vain hope.
Yesterday, we went to the close-out sale and bought Kleenex, lotions, candles, paper plates, a box of Russell Stover chocolates, a Black & Decker jig saw, and an extra saw as a Christmas present. All at 40-60 percent off.
The store was crowded and everyone was there to get bargains before someone else got them. The aisles were full of shopping carts stacked with purchases. There was only one way to proceed and that was to elbow your way ahead.
The shoppers seemed more rude than usual and I remembered the recent study of rudeness by the research group Public Agenda.
Of those surveyed, 79 percent said a lack of respect and courtesy in American society is a serious problem and 61 percent believe things have gotten worse in recent years.
More important, 41 percent were honest enough to report they lacked courtesy themselves sometimes.
Come to think about it, I wouldn’t say I was actually rude, but I could have been a little more polite as I squeezed my cart through the congested aisles of K-Mart.
What makes us so rude? Some people think it’s the overcrowding in malls, stadiums, and on the roads. Other people blame our increasingly busy lives.
Harvard professor Robert D. Putnam says the “rudeness epidemic” is a symptom of growing social isolation. Television, computers, automobiles, and urbanization have led to the decline of community.
In 1950, sociologist David Riesman wrote “The Lonely Crowd” and Yale University printed only 3,000 copies of the sociological treatise. Surprisingly, the book became a best-seller with 1.4 million copies sold.
When Riesman died last week at age 92, he had written numerous books and articles but as none as popular as “The Lonely Crowd.” Republished last year, this classic is considered by many to be the most influential book of the 20th century.
By the 1950s, we were beginning to suspect that people’s lives no longer were community oriented and “The Lonely Crowd” hit a nerve.
As community declines, people get more and more isolated and consequently value other people less. With no interrelatedness and mutual responsibility, people just don’t care about each other the same way.
In “Individualism Reconsidered and Other Essays,” Riesman wrote “What is feared as failure in American society is, above all, aloneness. And aloneness is terrifying . . . .”
The end result a half-century later is Putnam’s “rudeness epidemic”—a symptom of growing social isolation.
We must reinvent community. Get acquainted with your neighbours and the grocer. Make time for your friends. As the bumper sticker says, “Practice random acts of kindness.”
And always remember that kindness is contagious.
Marie Snider is an award-winning health care writer and syndicated columnist. Write her at or visit

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