21 Things I've Learned in 21 Years: #1

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I’ve always hated birthdays. Birthdays mean expectations, and I’m not great with those. I prefer to avoid attention on my birthdays in hopes of avoiding disappointment. But this year, my 21st year, I decided that birthdays should mean reflection.

I celebrated my 21st birthday just this past Monday. And I know I didn’t magically become a different person at the turn of the clock, but for the first time ever, I feel like birthdays mean something – they mark your evolution as a person.

I think it is important for me to reflect and document the lessons I’ve learned over the years, for me to be able to look back at a past version of myself and see how far I’ve come. I’m not claiming that I’m as wise as Yoda, but I’m proud to admit that I think I am a much better person and in a much better place than I was, say, 3 years ago.  

And so, here is the first out of twenty-one things I’ve learned in 21 years.

1.     Be kind.

I’ve never placed much significance on compassion and kindness past face value– it can easily be taken advantage of – but the past few years, especially these last few months, have shown me that kindness is rare, yet everywhere, should you look for it. I used to be scared that others would take advantage of me if I were to be too kind, too giving. But you can only control your own actions; how others respond is on their conscience – not yours. One specific incident taught me this.

I was about 17 or 18 at the time, and my friend and I were wandering around downtown Toronto, near Dundas Square, the poor man’s version of Times Square. A note: you encounter a lot of characters at Dundas Square – people shouting to you about god, Obama, abortion…you name it, they’ll yell it.

And so as fate would have it, one of these folks approached us. I think he was trying to get donations for some charity or other by giving away Reese’s Pieces. I typically ignore these people. I sound like a bitch, and maybe I am one, but I didn’t see the point. Who knows if their actions are sincere? Perhaps there might even be malice involved.

But my friend stopped and reached into his pocket for some change to give to the man. As we walked away, I pointed to the candy in his hand and asked him why he did that, how he could trust some stranger. Wasn’t he scared that the candy might be poisoned or that he just got scammed out of his money for some fake charity?

My friend said to me, “If that man was lying to me and decides to use the money for himself rather than the cause, then it’s not on my conscience…it’s on his. I am trying to live life as generous and kind as possible, and sometimes others may not do the same. But I did my part, and that’s all I can control.”

I’m not close to this friend anymore, and I wasn’t that close to him at this time either, but I’ll never forget him because of what I learned that day.

I can’t force others to be nice to me, but I can decide how I live my life. I want to believe that what you put out in the universe will be returned to you at some point, in some way. Sometimes this doesn’t happen. But at the end of the day, you are the sum of your own actions, not how others respond to you.

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