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Year of Kindness, Year of Harmony

January 2015 - Grand Rapids

One Word

Just before Christmas of 2013, my lovely wife bought me a copy of a book called One Word That Will Change Your Life. The concept is simple: pick a single word you will use as the focus of the next 12 months.

At first I thought it was ridiculous. I’m a complex, mercurial person… how can just one word sum up my goals for a whole year? Every option I thought of was too small, too confining. I want to grow, to teach, to learn, to laugh, to be strong and fast and healthy and capable and loving…

Until one day in the checkout line at a local bookstore I saw a magnet that said “Be Kind. No Exceptions.”

Kindness. That’s a word big enough to encapsulate a life, to fill up a year.

I bought the magnet.


I resolved to be kind in my everyday interactions: the random, ordinary conversations that make up a life. If we interacted this year and you feel I failed in this, I apologize. I probably agree with you and have felt bad about it ever since.

Even after a year of practice I’m not perfect, but the world around me was improved by the fact that I made the effort. I can easily be too blunt, typically when I forget that the people around me are in fact people with feelings and lives and dignity.

But that wasn’t enough. I made it my goal to view every decision – personal, familial, social and professional – through the lens of kindness. “Of these two choices, which one brings more happiness to the world?” If I do something for me, how can I expand it to benefit others too?

Now when I learn something, I find someone to teach it to. If I discover something amazing, I share. I give credit where it’s due. I focus on the positive. When I build an app I think hard on how it can empower my users to do more and be more. I like to say I write apps that give people superpowers.

When it came time to go to RubyConf again, I decided it would be a pointless trip if I was the only one who benefited, so I submitted a conference talk. When that didn’t work out, I volunteered as a guide. When that didn’t work out, I led a workshop. I was tenacious. Once I decided I was going to help, it was reduced to a question of how.

Focusing on kindness helped the people around me, but it helped me, as well. It is the only thing that has helped me beat impostor syndrome and reminded me that I’m here for a reason that has nothing to do with winning or losing or having the newest toy. It’s about creating the most joy.

Another Word

2014 is over. I certainly intend to continue being kind, but how to move forward into the new year?

My wife and I debated if I should keep the same word, or try a synonym, since the year had gone so well. I wanted to stretch, to expand my kindness with a new word, but nothing came to mind. It didn’t help that this all occurred to me on New Year’s Eve, when I was busy with family and food and laziness.

I was sorely tempted to look inward, to find a word that would focus more on me, after a whole year of looking outward.


I’ve been a music nut my whole life: played a variety of instruments half-competently, listened to every genre of music I could find. My playlists are so diverse they border on random. My children are beginning to explore music and I want to share that with them. The idea of devoting a year to really leveling-up my musical life was exciting.

On the CodeNewbie Twitterchat, I said

Learn-to-code goal for 2015 is music. Make music with code, teach code with music, learn from musicians, live life as a song.

I liked those ideas. I still do. But is music big enough? Is it something I can apply to every decision I make? “Of these two choices, which one brings more music to the world?” How to blend music and kindness? How to learn and grow from something I’ve pursued my entire life?

The next day, beside the cash register of a hospital gift shop, sat a bowl of shiny stones with a single words on each. On top rested one in midnight blue that said “Harmony”.

I bought the stone.


In music, harmony means the relationship between multiple pitches sounding at the same time, whether on a single instrument like a piano or across many instruments like in a band or orchestra. It’s about different notes working together to make music.

Harmony is about connection. It’s about leveraging differences. It’s about joining together to make something great. It’s about all of us together being better than any of us alone. It’s a celebration of diversity.

Music depends on harmony, but so does coding, and so does life. They can learn so much from each other.

I don’t know. But I intend to find out.