A week ago Sunday, I was not crowned Miss America. As it turns out, however, I received an award that I consider to be an honor personally, and maybe it will turn out to mean something to you, my Minnesota family, as well. I’m talking about the Miss Congeniality award. The one that is not televised, or given much hoopla, but is respected enough by the Miss America Organization to be accompanied by a $2,000 scholarship.
Don’t get me wrong. I know Miss Congeniality has a reputation. Kind of a bad rap, really, as the prize that goes to the “nice” girl — the one who has no chance of winning, and as such, is pretty much OK with everyone else. I think kindness is mistakenly seen as weakness, something that lacks pluck and ambition.
But kindness matters. Kindness matters because it is the one thing that brings us closer together as humans. It’s a choice we make in response to the needs of others, and also in response to the knowledge in ourselves that we need kindness, too. We seek connection, experience and community.
Kindness is not about weakness. It’s about strength. Kindness means acknowledging that difficult differences exist — in opinion, in race, in religion, in experience, in culture — and being able to see, as Maya Angelou so beautifully stated, that we are more alike than we are unalike. To act with kindness says “I see you as a part of my tribe. I see your need. I want to help” and that’s hard sometimes. But the hardest things are also the most fulfilling.
We live in a crazy, unpredictable world. These days more than ever, we have the opportunity to close off into our all-too-busy personal lives, to feel overwhelmed by the scope of our differences. It’s easy to look away, to look down at our phones, to ignore the call inside each of us because we are don’t know how to begin.
I am thankful to the Miss America Organization and to the 52 women whose lives touched mine. I am proud to be Miss Congeniality. I hope that we all can strive to be that person who responds to the world with an open gesture of kindness. It’s as simple as a smile, and the opportunities are endless.
Let’s begin here.
Madeline Van Ert