The Juneau Police Department’s Year of Kindness, or 17YOK, as we like to say, is a little more than half over. It has exceeded the steering committee’s wildest hopes. Dozens of groups have embraced kindness activities and people all over Juneau are doing daily acts of kindness.
I don’t think anyone in Juneau has benefited more from this initiative than I have. I have discovered a power over my own life that I wish I had embraced 40 years ago. I have spent too many days letting my mood be set by other people. Some of those people were total strangers who decided to say terrible, personal things to me. That is an occupational hazard as a police officer.
When I had the idea of a year of kindness initiative in September 2016, and I started actively practicing kindness, I had no inkling of what I was going to learn. I have now discovered that I can control if I am having a good day or a bad day. If I wake up in the morning feeling burdened by responsibilities and worries, I know I can do something kind, like give a couple of homeless people breakfast burritos, and suddenly I feel empathy and gratitude.
My brother said something about happiness once that I have found to be an accurate assessment. Happiness is having choices. When you have and make choices you have power over your life, and exercising that power makes you feel are in charge of your destiny. Choosing kindness lets me influence myself more than I allow others to influence me.
The other day I noticed a friend seemed stressed. After these months of practice I was able to see that I have the ability to do something and that if I did, we would both feel better afterwards. I suggested we run away from home the next weekend and have some snacks and go to a matinee. I know, we scheduled running away from home but adult obligations are not easy to shake. After she endorsed the suggestion, I felt great.
Because I have been spending time looking for opportunities to be kind, my focus has shifted outward, and more on the now. Dwelling on my own worries and anticipated disasters wasn’t making my stress less, stress was actually were growing with the attention.
I was recently in Montana and had the treat of going with friends from farm to farm as 4-H pigs were weighed. This was a check to see if the pigs were on track for the big show and sale at the fair. My friend’s teenage daughter was very worried about a great many things. She worried their pigs may have escaped the shed while we were at other farms. She worried about everyone finding their house. She worried about the strange pickup she could already see waiting at her house (it was my pickup, she just didn’t remember). I remember being a lot like her during my life, almost believing that if I worried enough, and thought of everything that could go wrong, I could create a shield of worry to hold off disasters. I told the worried teenager that if there was anything I could do differently in my life, I would like to get back all the energy I spent worrying about things that did not happen. My husband and I sometimes start talking about an anticipated problem and one of us will say, “Is that a real thing?” just to try and separate made-up problems from developments that are a fact and must be handled.
It feels like all of these things are connected: Kindness, Gratitude, Peacefulness and Perspective. I hope others participating in 17YOK have benefited even a fraction of what I have gained. The Year of Kindness has been such an important part of my life that while I am retiring as a Police Lieutenant on Sept. 1, after a month off, I will return as a part-time reserve officer to finish the Year of Kindness. I am hoping we can work together to finish this year as strong as we started!
• Juneau Police Department Lt. Kris Sell is the instigator of the Year of Kindness.