The WHO of My Pursuit

I was standing in the middle of a busy subway station in Moscow, Russia, and I was utterly lost.

I know what you’re thinking – just check your phone!  But, it was 1996, and the extent of my navigational tools was a large, folded up map, covered in the esoteric Cyrillic letters of the Russian language, with creases worn thin in all the most inopportune places.  It was my first solitary attempt to travel home from the Pushkin Institute, my Russian language school.  Somewhere, I had gone wrong in the maze of tunnels my fiancée had guided me through the days before.  As I stood there, furiously trying to concentrate among the bustling crowd of commuters pushing by me, I painstakingly tried to match up the characters on my map with those on the sign hanging above me. I was so engrossed in my task that I didn’t notice the young woman who approached me.

That is, until she asked in a thick Russian accent, “I help you?”  A flood of relief filled my body as I realized, “I am not alone.”

My Russian language skills were nonexistent.  Her English was elementary at best.  But after pointing at the map and muddling through some basic phrases, she managed to ascertain my destination.  I was so off course that the way back was too complicated to explain.  She looked down at her watch and then at me, paused to consider her options, and as she lightly touched my arm, she said, “I show you.”  We proceeded to pass through a series of pedestrian tunnels, up and down flights of stairs, until, finally, the tiled walls started to become familiar.  She led me to my platform and pointed out that the train would arrive in 2 minutes.  I breathed a sigh of relief and said a cursory thank you in Russian, “Spasibo,” unable to express my overwhelming feeling of gratitude.  She smiled, glanced at her watch again, and rushed off.

Twenty-five years have passed since my Russian rescuer took the time to notice someone in need. 

She could have thought to herself, “My English isn’t good enough to help,” justifying a reason to pass me by and continue on her way.  But she didn’t; she made a significant impact on my life that day, one that I continue to be grateful for even now.  Acts of kindness change people’s lives and research has shown that those receiving acts of kindness are likely to respond by doing the same for others, creating a ripple effect that washes out over all the people it touchesBy creating a habit of kindness in my thoughts and actions of daily life, I want to maximize my impact; I want to make waves.

Building a habit, creating an instinctual behavior, takes work and planning.  In my article, Making the Habit of Kindness Stick, I detail my process.  I believe one of the key components in my pursuit to create the habit of kindness is defining who will be the recipients of this kindness, the WHO of my pursuit, which I’ve outlined in the diagram above.  The most important aspect to note is the interconnectedness.  The ripple effect of acts of kindness fosters symbiotic interactions and relationships.

Where do I focus my acts of kindness?


I am embarking on this pursuit, and, first and foremost, I need to be kind to myself.  Not only is this important due to the physical and emotional benefits it affords, but it’s the only way I’m going to muster the courage this endeavor will take.  I find it difficult to take chances, especially on myself.  I don’t like failure or criticism; and offering my own ideas and  posting them on the internet and in social media is a sure-fire way to receive both of those.  I need to make sure my inner voice talks to me like I would talk to my best friend. 

“My Rings”

Eugene O’Kelly was at the top of his career, CEO of KPMG (U.S.), and happily living an active life with his family and friends when he was diagnosed with terminal cancer and given three months to live.   His inspirational memoir, Chasing Daylight: How My Forthcoming Death Transformed My Life, was written within that three months and provides valuable insight into the last days of his life. 

One of O’Kelly’s ideas that particularly resonated with me was his self-directed task to organize a series of good-byes with people who had touched his life.  As he said, “one of my tasks before I died was to ‘unwind’ or close – or, as I saw it, beautifully resolve – my personal relationships.”  He goes on to say, “It made me think that other people, especially those with more than three months left (for example several decades), could benefit from the approach I took, or at least modify it to make it their own.”

I thought this was pure genius.

Why should I wait until I know I’m going to die to purposefully spend time on the people who mean the most to me?

This would be the perfect means to maximize my pursuit to create the habit of kindness: one that positively impacts both my loved ones and me.  O’Kelly describes his process of listing out his contacts and grouping them into a diagram of concentric circles with headings such as ‘Immediate Family’ and ‘Lifetime Friends.’  Being the list-maker that I am, I attacked this process with gusto. 

I considered the different groups of people in my life that I wanted to include.  I came up with the figure below to acts as a guideline to help me understand my relationships and how to manage them. It is not a ranking system.

My Rings

I created a spreadsheet to organize people’s details and easily group and sort them when needed.  For example, everyone who has a birthday in March or all my friends from Louisville.  That way, if I was going to Louisville, I could quickly access the people to whom I’d like to reach out.

I opened my contacts on my phone and started at the top.  This turned out to be a win for me on so many levels.  Not only did I organize my contacts: merging duplicates, deleting people I couldn’t recall and updating information; but I took the time to reflect on those people and our shared experiences as I decided into which “ring” they fell. 

I recorded each contact in the spreadsheet and added notes and ideas of ways I could make meaningful contact with them or important things to remember.  For instance, in Russia, remembering the anniversaries of the deaths of loved ones is important.  My close friend’s father just passed away from Covid; I made sure to record that date to remind myself to reach out on that date next year.

I thought this would be a tedious process, but it turned out to be quite enjoyable.  In the effort to update my contacts, I reconnected with people I hadn’t spoken to since I left America 24 years ago.  I may not have gotten every single person in my life by scouring my phone’s list of contacts, but it probably covered the large majority.  I can always add others I’ve missed. The process resulted in a beautiful snapshot of the multitude of people who are a meaningful part of my life.  I am excited to start using the spreadsheet to help me create a habit of performing acts of kindness for them on a regular basis.


I’ve moved a lot in my life. Normally, people get the itch to change the layout of their furniture; I change my apartment.  I find it a fun challenge to switch-up my surroundings and learn a new country, city — neighborhood.   We recently relocated to New York City, and it’s the first time in my adult life that there is no plan to move.  On the one hand, it’s exciting!  We can consider things like getting a pet or painting the walls a color other than white.

However, it also puts the spotlight on a vast, empty space in my life.  I am seriously lacking friends.

From past experience, I know it takes at least one year to feel comfortable in a new city but two years to feel settled and make some real connections.  However, even with that timeframe in mind, I have a few things working against me.  First – Covid.  I figure, just go ahead and add an extra year or two.  Second, my kids are all older now – so no more making friends through their schools or friends’ parents.  Third, I am not working yet, because I didn’t prioritize developing my career when we lived abroad.

I know I can find friends; it just takes uncomfortable effort and patience.

So, I decided – what better place to start than in my own neighborhood? It is actually the most wonderful thing about New York.   The city is massive and overwhelming, but at the same time, it’s local.  Each neighborhood has its own vibe and traditions.  It takes time to foster relationships, but I thought I would try to hurry the process along by putting kindness to work. 

I started religiously reading our local newsletter, which kept me abreast of everything going on in the neighborhood.  I saw my opening when our local park was looking for volunteers.  Six months after joining, I somehow find myself Chair of the Gardening Committee – even though I have zero knowledge of horticulture.  But the seeds have been sown, and I see the potential for some beautiful new relationships.

Greater World

“What is it that affects you so deeply that whenever you encounter it, you feel the need to look away?  Look there.”

-Glennon Doyle

Glennon Doyle’s words in Untamed spoke to me.  I had been at a loss at how I should contribute to the world.  What was my passion?  When I considered it in the way that Doyle describes, it was easy to identify – children.  I cannot bear it when I see children suffering; it touches a nerve in me and makes me disproportionately upset.  Although I knew it would be incredibly challenging, I figured it would also be incredibly rewarding. 

Another wonderful book I read during my year of discovery was The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, by Michelle Alexander.  I had never fully realized the impact of incarceration on our society.  It is an incredibly difficult cycle to break and catastrophically impacts families.  I wondered if there was a way to positively impact this societal problem, whilst helping children in need.

New York City has a lot of need.  On the flip side, you can find everything you need – usually at all hours of the day or night.   Unsurprisingly, I found just what I needed.  Hour Children provides services to incarcerated and formerly incarcerated women and their children.  This amazing organization has programs working both in prisons and out, helping women get back on their feet and supporting their children through the process.  Starting in 1986 with a home for children whose mothers were incarcerated, Hour Children has exponentially grown and includes a wide range of services, from housing for families to resume writing services. 

Although Covid has reduced volunteers for contact intensive programs such as being a “cuddler” in the prison nursery unit, I have my foot in the door.   I am happily volunteering in the food pantry but can’t wait to get my hands on those babies.

Kindness is a remedy to society’s ailments.

The other way I hope to impact the greater world is sharing my journey on this pursuit.  I enjoy reading about what other people have successfully done in their lives to promote kindness.   You can tell by all the ideas I take from authors I read! I hope that by writing about my own experiences and ideas on kindness, I will inspire others to make their own small changes.  Kindness has a ripple effect, and is my oar in the water.

Who are the “whos” in your life?  Can you build more intentional kindness into your relationships?  I’d love to hear your ideas.  As always, let’s be kindful of each other.

Kindness has a ripple effect, and is my oar in the water.
Patricia Makatsaria


  • Pamela Geatz says:

    Patty, I am so happy that you have found a way to spread the word kindness! More importantly, you are spreading the deeds of kindness. I am inspired ! I will be looking for ways to do as you have advised- make the world a kinder place.

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