It was a blustery October evening and I was searching for a book to read, yearning for an opportunity to transport myself to a world of witches, dragons, or perhaps a sultry romance. I stood in front of my father’s bookcase, trusting that his dusty collection would offer a wide selection of genres. Among the legal tomes, philosophical musings, and classic fiction, I came across an unassuming book titled Random Acts of Kindness. The book contained a series of short, heartwarming stories submitted by readers that detailed their own experiences with random altruism. Some were sweet, some heartbreaking, but all were endearing. I shed tears over the woman who had lost everything only to find mysterious care packages on her doorstep every morning for a year. My heart swelled when I read the account of the stranger who, realizing he no longer needed twenty pairs of suits in his collection, walked to the nearest corner and gifted them to the friendly homeless man. Five years later, he found the man on his doorstep–now a successful entrepreneur–offering to repay him for the clothing and kindness that was extended to him so long ago.
After reading these stories of unfettered love and compassion, I was inspired to begin a kindness crusade of my own. Each time I visited the gym, I placed post-it notes on the mirrors with encouraging words like, “You are beautiful just as you are!” or “Smile–the world is yours.” At school, the janitors and bus drivers, so often unrecognized and unappreciated, were surprised to receive homemade vegan cookies made by yours truly. When I entered a coffee shop with a bit of extra change, I told the cashier that I would be paying for the individual standing behind me (anonymously, of course!). Though small and seemingly insignificant, these actions were enough to make someone’s day a bit brighter and perhaps provide some solace in an otherwise chaotic world.
And let’s face it: the world, at least as I’ve come to understand it, is often quite bleak and disorienting. There are millions of injustices swirling around us; in a global context, we’re faced with poverty, starvation, and widespread violence. On a more intimate level, we all experience heartache, grief, and failure. It is my belief that those of us who have endured these struggles are also the most likely to exercise compassion to others–especially strangers.
Of course, the month of November is quite famous for declarations of gratitude and forgiveness. However, I challenge you to start practicing random acts of kindness this month and in all the months to come. Kindness should never be treated as a convenience, nor should it be practiced as a way to assure oneself of intrinsic goodness. No, small acts of compassion should only come from a desire to contribute to a sense of unity in which all of humanity stands together to rejoice in the purest and most honest form of love.
Here are some ideas to get you started:
- When dining out, pick a random table and tell your waiter that you would like to pay for the meal anonymously.
- At the supermarket, purchase a dozen roses and hand one to every cashier (don’t forget to smile!).
- Open up your phonebook, pick three addresses at random, and send them a work of art that you created.
- Bake your favorite vegan dessert, package it with a bow, and give it to someone you feel is under-appreciated.
- Instead of bringing old clothes to a secondhand store, personally gift your favorite items to the less fortunate.
- For one week, anytime you feel compelled to do or say anything kind, do it without a second thought. You’ll be surprised at the warm reception!
- Take an afternoon to call or write someone you have not spoken to in a long time. Make sure to tell them how much he or she means to you.
- On the street, smile at someone who looks sad. Your gesture may turn his or her day around.
- If you notice that someone’s parking meter has expired, chip in a few cents so that the car isn’t ticketed. Include a nice note if you’d like!
- If you have a server that is particularly attentive, ask for his or her name and write a glowing review to give to the manager.
Let the kindness revolution begin!
Related articles: On Being Gentle
Photo: Erica Hampton via Flickr