Embodying Kindness

Person handing groceries to an older man.

By Justin Gratta

March 17, 2021

It was my junior year of college when I had my first major bout of depression. It was the year I was first diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). It was the year I failed my first class ever, and not because I wasn’t smart enough to pass, but because I was too afraid of what my mind was going through to be able to get out of my bed in the mornings. I’m always happy to talk about my mental health journey and in some ways, that is what this article is about, but not really. The main takeaways from my extensive battle with mental illness are twofold: 1) You never know what someone is going through, there’s often a reason behind the negativity of others, no need to add to it. 2) Don’t make things harder than they have to be, life can be a struggle in itself, why complicate things further?

When I was hired by Quartet, it was my first venture into the technology space. My previous roles as a foster care caseworker and after-school program director in the nonprofit sector were rewarding but often felt like treading water with no ability to impact real change. Quartet was the first company I had ever worked for that seemed to want to change the way people received care in the United States, rather than just weather the storm of a broken system. I felt like the company as a whole is dedicated to positive change, even down to the values they hold for their employees: advocate fiercely, amplify diverse perspectives, build trusted partnerships, show up in earnest, and (most importantly to me) embody kindness.

“No one is useless in this world who lightens the burdens of another.” — Charles Dickens

Being kind, as a value, can on its surface seem simpler than the others. Smile, be pleasant, ask how folks are doing, how hard can that be, really? To me, kindness entails more than that, though. It’s not simply checking a box or having manners — it’s the ability to care about your fellow person’s well-being. We’re all navigating an increasingly wild world at the same time; each of us, a culmination of opinions, beliefs, experiences, religions, backgrounds, desires, and goals. Contrary to what we’ve been taught or taken in at different points of life, our greatest strengths don’t showcase themselves when we step on each other, but when we work together. Working together, whether it be in a relationship, for a project at work, running an event, or creating art, all tend to be that much easier when you are treating the folks you’re collaborating with as equals.

So how does one go about practicing kindness as a skill? For me, the answer is simple. Throughout my aforementioned struggles in life, I believe on some levels I have felt as low as a person can feel. For me, being kind to others is a way of doing my part to make sure that nobody else I encounter in this life feels unvalued. At the lowest of my lows, I could still find value in being called and asked for advice by a friend. By braving the landscape of an insidious and chronic mental illness, I have learned things about myself that help me tell when others are going through similar circumstances. I have learned that you can never truly know what’s going on behind closed doors or in the mind of anybody, even some of the people you hold dearest. Perhaps I hold the value of kindness so dear because I know what it’s like to feel useless in this world but also have experienced firsthand an easing of that experience simply by extending kindness to others that cross my path.

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