Originally published as a column on CFJC Today Kamloops and Armchair Mayor News on Monday April 13, 2020.

Many years ago, I found this piece of driftwood – a plank just wide enough and long enough to write a short something on,  and that something was one of my favourite quotes by Dalai Lama and a principle I try to live by, ‘Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.’ We have moved that piece of driftwood from one home to another and during many kids’ squabble I pointed to it as a reminder that kindness can be done, anytime, anywhere. A reminder for all, young and old, that is.

It turns out that walking around town these days holding that sign would not be too outlandish, given some of the stories that have been recently shared on social media. People are being judged for buying what some label as non-essential items. Looking into each other’s carts or baskets and assuming that an item is non-essential is wrong and presumptuous. Sure, food is essential, and so are other basic items such as personal care, hygiene and home cleaning products. Past that, the line between essential and non-essential is blurry and let’s all agree that any attempt to label things should be called what it is, judgment. If what some consider non-essential can brighten up someone’s day and renew their hope that this too shall pass, then it is essential; same for a bunch of art supplies that can help parents with little kids keep a level of sanity that allows them to be good parents in times of uncertainty and worry. Every person carries a story, right?

Another instance: touching things and not buying them. I am willing to say it happens that we might grab something only to realize that it is the wrong item. Should that bring on a hail of dirty looks? Or, worse, being chastised by the ‘better than thou’ human who is shopping like a pro? We’re still new at this ‘shopping during covid-19’ thing and the last thing we need is shaming, blaming and judging people.

I came across a most troubling story that had many shades of wrongness. It was related via a Facebook post by man from Kelowna (originally from Victoria.) While shopping for hand sanitizer, he was not only chastised for touching a bottle and putting it down on the shelf while reaching for the wallet in his backpack but was also told by the same person to go back to his country. His country is Canada, but what could have made person think that it wasn’t? Yep, skin colour. Racism is still a thing with some, and it’s just so ugly. You’d think in times of trouble and with everyone hunkering down under the ‘we’re all in it together’ umbrella, no one would be capable of such lowness of being. And yet.

What about people who are careless though, you may ask, and whose actions can put others at risk? Say something or let it slide? Say something because speaking up for everybody’s benefit is a good thing, but say it with kindness and most importantly, do not make it personal. If someone is getting closer than the required six feet, point that out. Kindly. If someone coughs nearby without covering their mouth, ask them to do so in their elbow. Kindly. Reminders like these are a form of community service if you will.

We are all stressed by the ongoing pandemic, wondering at times if the person next to us might be an unfortunate carrier of the disease, but let’s all try to resolve to be kind. Judging, shaming, giving people dirty looks for the contents of their shopping carts or for grabbing an object by mistake or, God forbid, making racist comments… Nope, nope, and nope.

I’ll leave you with another quote, by an unknown author: ‘In a world where you could be anything, be kind’. And my paraphrasing: In a time when you could be anything, be kind.