“Step forward if you’ve travelled to another country.”

I was standing in a circle in my school’s gym with over 150 girls from my school as part of a girls’ empowerment summit. We were doing an activity where a statement was read out, and if it was true for us then we took a step forward. Most girls in the circle stepped in when this statement was read.

After that, the statements became more serious.

“Step forward if you feel pressure to be perfect.”

“Step forward if you feel like you have to live up to others’ expectations.”

“Step forward if you feel stressed out.”

It was a powerful experience in itself to see the sheer amount of girls who all felt the same way. I also found it powerful because in the circle I was standing beside one of my favourite teachers, someone who I have a lot of respect for and really look up to. As I stepped forward for some of the statements, so did my teacher.

I guess it’s one of those things that I don’t ever really think about – that other people can feel pressured and stressed; so it was comforting to know that everyone – even amazing teachers – shares those feelings.

Humans of New York is a social media page that shares a similar message. The photographer behind the site, Brandon Stanton, walks around New York (and recently, cities across the globe) with his camera and photographs people. He posts the photos online with accompanying quotes from the impromptu interviews he conducts with his subjects.

Some quotes are sad, some are funny – but almost all of them are profound in one way or another: and almost all of them tell stories that you wouldn’t be able to guess just by looking at the person in the photo. Humans of New York shows photos of seemingly ordinary people with extraordinary stories.

I just scrolled through the HoNY instagram page and stopped on a random photo: it shows a smiling girl in a winter parka in the subway. You could never guess by looking at the photo that the girl only moved to America this year and left her mother behind in Panama (and misses her dearly), or that she has a job knocking on doors and wants to have her own business so that she can afford to bring her mom to America.

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The stories that the people HoNY captures are inspiring, and so is the premise itself: that everyone has a story that isn’t immediately apparent. It’s incredibly important to remember that everyone has a story, and everyone has some sort of struggle. You can never tell what someone is going through without talking to them (and even then you can’t always tell), so you should be nice to everyone.

There are so many reasons to be kind to others, but this might be one of the most important ones. Be kind because you never know what someone else is going through; be kind because everyone is going through something; be kind because, as the quote goes, “There’s not a single person you wouldn’t love if you knew their story.”

This wasn’t one of the statements that was said at the girl’s summit, but if it was I imagine every girl in the circle would have stepped forward:

“Step forward if you have a story.”

What’s yours?