Around the holidays, I participated in something unofficially called “26 Acts of Kindness.” In the days following the horrific shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, Ann Curry (one of my favorite people in broadcasting, for this reason among many, many others), suggested that we all do 26 acts of kindness for random strangers in honor of the 26 lives that were taken. Suddenly, my Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram feeds were full of people sharing different random acts of kindness they either did for someone else or had done for them.
I decided that I was going to participate, as well. The Sandy Hook shootings really, really touched me. I’m not sure if it’s because I’m a mother or a teacher or had recently lost a loved one. Or maybe I was just a regular person with a heart, but I couldn’t handle the media around it. I know it was well-intended and most of it paid honor to the victims, but it just upset me so much that I couldn’t watch any of it. To this day, I have not seen one picture of a victim or read one story about the incident. But it seemed wrong to somehow let the incident pass without somehow marking it, and so I participated.
Turns out, acts of random kindness are kind of hard! It took me a month to complete them all! It was easier to do them for people that I knew. For example, a club at school was selling “PJ stickers” for a dollar one day. Students bought the sticker for a dollar and then got to wear their pajamas to school. When they came around to my first period to sell the stickers, I surprised my whole class by paying for all their stickers. They thought it was awesome!
Later that week, I sent notes to two of my students who had both lost parents this year. It was getting close to the holidays, and I knew that I was going to have a hard time without my dad. I couldn’t imagine what it would be like for those 13-year-old boys. So, I wrote them little notes and slipped them into their folders for my class without any fanfare. I didn’t want to embarrass them, but I wanted them to know that I was thinking about them.
Those kinds of acts were simple and easy because they were right there in front of me. The ones that were harder were the ones I had to go out of my way to accomplish. First, that’s hard because you have to think of an act. And then it’s hard because you have to go out and make that happen. For these kinds, I did things like regifting a few gift cards I received to sales clerks and mailmen. One time, I bought a group of high school kids who were caroling outside our grocery store at Christmas each a chocolate truffle.
Let me tell you something, it was AWKWARD! People weren’t quite sure what to do when someone was randomly nice to them for no real reason. And it was weird to have to initiate conversations with random people and then do something nice for them. (Was that just me? Am I the only one who felt so awkward????)
But every time I did an act, I felt better. I felt bolder. And I felt blessed. My grandma and my mom both say we should be a blessing to others because we have been blessed ourselves. After a few rounds of awkward random kindness, it just started to feel more natural. I also found that the more acts of kindness that I performed, the more opportunities for kindness I found. Pretty soon, I was jumping all over chances to do nice things for people. I’d see a drive thru lane with the window open and someone back at the ordering menu, and I’d screech across three lanes of traffic just to pull in before they had the chance to pay for their meal. It became a rush. A kindness rush. And what a high it gave!
I finished my 26 acts list back in January, and I was kind of sad when I checked my last task off. Since I’ve finished my official list, I’ve cooled down a bit on the hunting down kind acts. But one thing that hasn’t changed is seeing the opportunity to be kind all around me, every single day. Things like calling my students’ parents when the kids are really working hard. Or stopping to talk with a co-worker who recently lost her mother a couple mornings a week, just to make sure she’s doing okay. Or when Chris and I paid for two homeless kids to see a play at his theater through the Homeless Coalition of Orlando. A few days ago, I gave one of Gracie’s teacher’s a ride home from daycare. She has a nine-month old daughter, and I see them catching the bus home every day and I thought, “If I’m able to do something, then I should do something.” This afternoon, I stopped alongside the interstate to help a woman whose TV had fallen out of the back of her van. We stood in the pouring rain and picked up all the pieces, all the while her saying, “I can’t believe someone stopped to help me! I just can’t believe it!”
These acts do not make me a better person than any one else. Acts of kindness actually have nothing to do with the person performing the act. They are about the person or people you are serving. Because when those people are saying, “Thank you for your kindness,” what they are really saying is, “Thank you for thinking I am worth your time and effort. Thank you for making me feel important and special.”
To avoid some of the awkwardness of random acts of kindness, here are a few things I’ve learned:
1. Don’t ask if you can help – just do it! If there’s a new mom or someone else you know who really needs some help, don’t ask her what she needs. Just tell her, “I would really love to come do your dishes” or “I’d really love to come cook you dinner.” Then, let them tell you what time and day works best for them, and get to it. When you make the act of kindness more of a statement, it takes the pressure off of the person you are helping. There’s nothing worse than a person trying to help, but really just making more work for someone. Don’t make them come up with something kind you can do. Pick a kind act, and then tell them that’s what you’d like to do.
2. When you are talking to someone about doing something nice for them, phrase it as if they are helping you out. No one wants a handout. People have pride and feelings and someone sauntering in to save the day is annoying at best and downright degrading at worst. I’ve taken to using the phrase, “Please let me help you with that!” or “Please let me do that for you!” or “Please let me buy that for you!” or “Please let me take care of that!” Putting the action out there as if they are doing you a favor is a much more approachable way to be kind.
3. Just do it! I am the WORST at talking myself out of my best of intentions. I’ll sit there and think something to death until I finally think, “This is going to be a disaster,” and then I never do it at all. Just do it! Go with that knee-jerk reaction to TAKE ACTION. Trust me, even if people think it’s weird at first, when you’re gone and they’re sitting there thinking about what you just did, they will appreciate you. And, hopefully, they’ll feel inspired enough to pass the kindness along.
4. Tell people about it. Unless you’re a blogger, telling people about what you do might seem weird. But you sharing what you’re doing gets the ball rolling for people around you. You don’t have to do an act of kindness for someone in order for the act to be passed forward. Someone might see you doing it or hear you sharing about it, and then they might be inspired secondhand to perform a kind act. Don’t gloat about it, of course. But share ways you’ve found to be kind. It will give people all kinds of ideas. Some of the best acts of kindness I performed this holiday season were ideas I heard other people had done.
5. Don’t make too much conversation with strangers. Don’t take up their time with mindless, polite chatter. Just get in there, do your act of kindness, and get out! For one thing, no one wants to have to sit there and talk for a long time with a stranger – even a stranger who’s doing something nice for them. But for another, I have found that having a lot of conversation gives more of a chance for the person I am serving to turn it around and glorify ME. Standing there talking to someone you’ve just done a nice thing for almost makes the other person feel like they should fill the whole time thanking you. Don’t put the person in that position. Just do your kindness, be short and sweet, and then leave the person alone. Don’t wait around for praise and acknowledgement. Remember, this isn’t about YOU, it’s about the person you are serving.
I am not always a kind person. Don’t let this post fool you. I’ve snubbed people. I roll my eyes. I’ve snuck out a backdoor so that I don’t have to talk to someone. Being kind isn’t about being perfect. It’s about taking time out of your day to put someone else first. To let someone else know that they matter – even if you don’t know anything about them. It’s something that makes you feel better whether you are the giver or the receiver of the kindness. And if that ripple of kindness goes on, it can be something that makes the world a little better and a little kinder.
In the spirit of sharing kindness, please leave a comment today telling about either an act of kindness you have done for someone else, or about an act of kindness someone has done for you. Let’s give each other some ideas for sharing kindness with those around us!