The Århsome Stories

In my piece The Kindness Letters (see below), I wondered what I would find if I dug down in my own århsome memories – and whether there would be awe, a kindness, or both involved.  Thus, this piece makes more sense if you have read The Kindness Letters first:

The Kindness Letters

Let me begin by noting that doing this exercise was so much fun and made me recall numerous small, sweet memories.  Try it.

Are these memories in the awesome category?  Not necessarily, but they are sweet to recall, all the same.  That in itself has a positive impact on the nervous system.  And we can discuss if they really are small?  Rereading my piece made me remember, that the words we use to describe something influences what value we give it.  These are the big little things we may still remember decades later.

Before I dig in: I was reminded by the importance of sharing this kind of stories when friends over the weekend made some overarching comments about the “state of the Union” and the future for their kids.

When we lived (for more or less the first “59,800” years since Homo Sapiens left Africa) in our little 50-200 people villages/tribes, we would hear all kinds of stories in the grapevine.  Our tribe members would retell the nice things they had experienced, giving esteem to the kind people – and the not-so-good things they had experienced, warning us whom we shouldn’t trust unconditionally.  We are still wired for this kind of communication, although we for the last couple of hundred years increasingly have lived among anonymous strangers in big cities.

We still listen through the grapevine to stories within our tribes – but additionally, we are now daily bombarded virtually with news, mostly negative from people we don’t know about people we don’t know.  The “news cycle” combine with our lazy brain’s availability heuristics to create the wrongful impression that negative events manyfold outnumber positive events.   Fortunately, reality is not only what is written in the newspaper or on Twitter but contains myriads of otherwise ignored “small – or not so small – sweet moments” to reset our nervous systems for belonging.  So, do share your kind stories widely – and help stave off the depression epidemic.

Randomly, here are some of my stories from the seven kind-story categories:

  1. They experienced an unexpected “good luck” kindness (a compliment e.g.)

We were planning to have a lot of family visiting for Thanksgiving from far, far, and further away.

“We are going to be away for the week”, our friends up the street said,  “why don’t you borrow our house for extra beds.“

Oh, to have such great neighbors.

2. They had some bad luck, and somebody ameliorated that.

A frosty December weekend in my youth, I had borrowed my parents’ cabin. I navigated the snow-packed and icy roads – and then I managed to break my car key in trunk lock.  #@^%.  A return trip by train to my apartment to pick up my spare key; that would take many hours.

I decided to walk to town to buy provisions before the stores closed and in line at the baker shop, I met my parents’ neighbor.  Naturally, I told her how stupid I had been with my key.  She gave me a ride back and with no further ado she handed me the keys to her car so I could drive home, saving me more than half the time. 

Oh, to have such great neighbors.

3. Somebody had pointed out something about them – a talent, skill, habit, or trait – they weren’t aware of was exceptional (secret superpower) or had functioned as an “enlightened witness” and thereby changed the storyteller’s life trajectory.

Four words:  Kimberly Davis. Thank you. 

4. They were engaged in play.

Over the Holidays we used the marzipan – a traditional Christmas treat in Denmark – as modelling clay.  My daughter was building a small prototype for her thesis design project.  I am so awed that she allowed me to be part of her brainstorming.  I guess it is the ROI from sitting for hours playing with Legos with my children; they know I am still a playful kid at heart. 

In the end, we ate her table.

5. “Love songs” – to people, nature, sunsets,…

I have heard so much about how hard it is to get an orchid to bloom again, and there it is – eight lovely flowers.  

Oh, to have such great neighbors and be a great neighbor – again.

6. A time when they were authentic and felt belonging.

It happens that somebody tells me something they have never shared with even their closest family.  Sometimes it is dark.  Sometimes it is a dream they were afraid would be ridiculed. 

And then, sometimes, time becomes something else than vibration in a Caesium 133 atom. What it is, don’t ask me – it is fluid – love moving at the speed of light, perhaps?  Jaw-droppingly awesome…  I want to spend more time there.

7. Socially risky situations, like hearing a vulnerable share of a personal story, or doing/ seeing something that may run against social norms to build a connection.

The first Thanksgiving we spent in the USA, we were invited to join a party where we didn’t know the hosts at all.  I don’t think that would have happened with so little ado in Denmark.  We were blown away by the hospitality and have paid it forward since.

As you can see, it doesn’t always take a lot to brighten somebody’s day – and memories may last a lifetime – particularly if we pay attention to these events when they happen.

The last part of the “storyboarding” was to see if the memories had something in common.  I am sure I can find memories that don’t have people in them, but I for sure didn’t have to look hard to find the small stories above – and there are so many more now that I have looked back.

By now, it doesn’t come as a big surprise to me that people make me tick.  But I would have laughed if you had told me that 30 years ago when I only would take pride in my analytical skills…

Fortunately, we can grow wiser if we dare challenge our internalized stories – about what is important in the world and about our own strengths and weaknesses.

While nature is also a big contributor to moments of awe for me as for many people who commented on the previous post, research has found that one of the most important factors for a long, happy life is to feel connected into one’s local community.  Having good neighbors really is awesome.  And sometimes, you don’t really have to know them to notice that they, too, take time to watch the sunset – and you feel connected.  No words need to be uttered.  Except perhaps “Årh…”


Charlotte Wittenkamp
Charlotte Wittenkamp
Charlotte Wittenkamp is an organizational psychologist who counsels international transfers, immigrants, and foreign students in overcoming culture shock. Originating from Denmark, where she worked in organizational development primarily in the finance industry, Charlotte has lived in California since 1998. Her own experiences relocating lead down a path of research into value systems and communication patterns. She shares this knowledge and experience through speaking and writing and on her website Many of these “learning experiences” along with a context to put them in can be found in her book Building Bridges Across Cultural Differences, Why Don’t I Follow Your Norms?. On the side, she leads a multinational and multigenerational communication training group.

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