By Mary O’Brien, M.D.
It’s hard to believe, but it happened 18 years ago. The horrific events of Sept. 11, 2001 (9/11), shocked the nation and the rest of the civilized world. We now have an entire generation of young people who know of 9/11 only through video images. They have no actual memories of that day. Those of us who do will never be the same.
This coming Wednesday, 9/11, is Patriot Day. Many people across the nation are honoring those who sacrificed themselves for others by performing an act of kindness. Wouldn’t it be great if kindness became our second nature, our default mode? We would wake up thinking, “Whom could I help today?” Sadly, we do not think this way.
Instead, we are focused on getting “likes” on Facebook and/or other forms of social media. As a result, far too many people are literally addicted to attention. Getting “likes” on Facebook actually stimulate dopamine release in the reward pathways of the brain. However, did you know performing or witnessing an act of kindness also stimulates release of serotonin and boosts “Immunoglobulin A” (IgA) production? IgA is our first line of defense against infection. It is most concentrated in tears, nasal secretions, and saliva. This could be helpful as we head into cold and flu season. And, heaven knows, millions of us are worried sick about horrible headlines and hurricanes.
Given this reality, performing acts of kindness truly becomes therapeutic. Maybe this year on 9/11 we could:
- Take the time and interest to compliment someone — especially someone who probably hasn’t received a compliment lately.
- Pay for the driver in the car behind us at a toll booth or drive-thru.
- Donate clothes or household items in good condition to Goodwill, the Salvation Army, or a shelter.
- Take a box of donuts, muffins, or chocolates to the people at the bank, pharmacy, fire station, or police station.
- Leave a basket of treats on the doorstep of a single mother or elderly neighbor.
- Send a greeting card (a real one) to someone who has had a rough year.
- Donate blood.
- Send flowers anonymously to someone in a nursing home.
- Give a donation to the American Red Cross for disaster relief.
There has been a battle between good and evil since the beginning of time. Two thousand years ago someone told us to overcome evil with good. So far, no one has come up with a better plan.