Friday, November 02, 2007

Random Acts of Kindness

I loved the whole "Random Acts of Kindness" movement that happened several years back. In fact, it was pretty interesting to me, because in an old journal that predated that movement, I had made an entry about a book I wanted to write called, "Kindness is Contagious" which would be a number of vignettes about how when we do nice things for other people, it ripples out and causes others to do nice things too. It was remarkably similar to what showed up as the "Practice random acts of kindness and senseless acts of beauty" movement. When I had the idea for my book, I remembered thinking "Come on, Nola. No one else besides sappy old you would be interested in a book of stories about being nice to strangers and how that can change the world." When I first saw the Random Acts of Kindness book and bumper stickers, I remembered my book idea, and realized that the Universe was telling me I was wrong! There are a lot of people out there who would be interested in and touched by such a book! The world needed that book and that message. I didn't act on it, so the universe found someone else who would! :) I'm glad that the message made it through!

I've done a lot of this practice in my life. I really enjoy surprising people with acts of kindness. Especially strangers.

One of the interesting things I've observed in this practice, is how so many people have trouble accepting or receiving the act of kindness. I find it fascinating!

I was once in a grocery store at lunch time. I was attending a conference in a nearby hotel and I went in to pick up some water to take to the afternoon session. As I was standing in the checkout line, a young man was in front of me with several packaged sandwiches and some drinks. He had mechanics coveralls on and by the conversation he had with the checker it was obvious that he worked at the gas station across the parking lot from the store we were in. He explained that he was buying lunch for himself and the guys he worked with.

As the cashier tallied his bill, she announced the total. It was something like $20.42 The guy pulled out his money, and he was 42 cents short. He asked her if he could run back over to the station and get some more money. She was hesitant to allow him to leave the store with the merchandise. They went back and forth a few times as I observed the situation.

I thought about how easy it would be to give him 42 cents. As people often are, I felt a little hesitant. I didn't want to embarrass this young man. I didn't want him to say no and have it turn into a big debate. It was such an easy thing I could do. It would help him. It would take the young, obviously inexperienced checker off the hook. It would be a win-win for everyone... for the bargain price of 42 cents.

Their discussion continued, and people were backing up in line. I reached into my coat pocket and pulled out the change I had there. I kid you not... it was 42 cents EXACTLY! I took that as a sign that I was supposed to give him the money. I handed it to the young man and said, "Here you go."

As I predicted he started to tell me all the reasons why he couldn't accept. I assured him that it was my pleasure to help out, and that it was my 'random act of kindness' for the day. He argued with me a bit more and said he'd be happy to go get 42 cents and pay me back.

I told him that really wasn't necessary, and that I just wanted him to go enjoy his lunch with his buddies and let this be.

He finally accepted the money, thanked me about 10 times and told me if I EVER needed any work done on my car that I could come and see him at the gas station and he'd take care of it for me.

He was so surprised and overwhelmed by my small act of kindness he offered me free mechanical service on my car! Amazing isn't it?

This world is so filled with people who are caught up in their own, insulated lives. We don't see each other. We don't help each other out... especially strangers. I'm always touched to see how people react to small, random acts of kindness. Our world is so starved for it and it is such an aberration, that people often want to repay a tiny kindness with a giant one.

I always enjoy thinking about what the person I'm kind to will do to someone else in the future. I like to think that it is truly contagious! It feels so good when someone you don't know goes out of their way to be kind, that it gives us a little courage to intervene in a situation where a small kindness can make a big difference.

Look around in your world today. See if there is an opportunity where you could be kind to a total stranger and start a little kindness revolution. It is so much fun! I really do believe it can change our world!

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