Random Acts of Kindness – Creating a Mystery
The Dalai Lama said, “Right from the moment of our birth, we are under the care and kindness of our parents, and then later on in our life, when we are oppressed by sickness and become old we are again dependent on the kindness of others. Since at the beginning and the end of our lives we are so dependent on other’s kindness, how can it be that in the middle we neglect kindness toward others?”
Stories are our lives in language. Welcome to the Love Your Story podcast. I’m Lori Lee, and I’m excited for our future together of telling stories, evaluating our own stories, and lifting ourselves and others to greater places because of our control over our stories. This podcast is about empowerment and giving you, the listener, ideas to work with in making your stories work for you. Power serves you best when you know how to use it.
Last week I told a story about floating down the San Juan river and how the people and experiences in our lives become touchstones of meaning and milestones for us. This week we’ll talk about why kindness is more important than ever and how we create our own mystery stories.
In the timeline of the history of the world, our day is unlike any other. The speed at which we communicate and transact business is instantaneous compared with past forms of communication that ranged from only being unable to communicate with someone that was directly in front of you, to currier by horse or pigeon which could take weeks or months depending upon how far away the communication was being sent, to telegraphs, to home phones, sitting in front of the large home radio, television, or computer and eventually the internet and the crazy small devices that we can carry with us everywhere now. This of course, leaves out the eras taken to develop symbols and alphabets in the first place to be able to communicate outside of pictographs and petroglyphs. It’s been a long road. We are so connected now, with so many people, that the common person with a cell phone has a monumental voice to tell their stories to the entire on-line world with a reach completely unprecedented. Social media has given rise to the voice of the masses – to anyone who wants to speak. There is no more silence, no more getting permission, no more waiting for the powers-that-be to approve what the masses know. Today with a cell phone and a computer you are your own publisher, your own promoter. You can be connected to almost anyone, almost anywhere, even someone on the other side of the world. So, here’s the irony: this is also the time the Huffington Post called, “The Age of Loneliness.” There are lots of reports and articles written on this subject, how we don’t like to admit we’re lonely because it’s a stigma associated with losers and loners, how the local community once revered and honored as a place where people knew and supported one another has become instead often a place where everyone is disconnected because they are so busy moving fast, or tapping in virtually to people they will never see. There are numerous reasons our society has become disconnected, all while appearing to be more connected than ever, but without this sense of community and personal connectedness, we are often left feeling lonely and lost. Our stories have more moments where we stand in a crowd and feel completely alone. I have felt this more times than I have tracked.
The other day I was listening to a podcast and the speaker pointed out research that showed that when we leave our cell phones on the table during lunch or during a conversation, that people will not delve into deep discussions. Conversation stays on a surface level because all participants know that they can be interrupted at any time, and sharing on deep personal levels is a vulnerable and personal space that requires one’s full attention. This is just one example of the many, many ways that technology creates a lack of connection.
So why am I talking about our disconnection, our loneliness, our lack of community… not because I think we should all throw our phones away or disconnect our internet, but because there are little things we can do every day to change the disconnect, one act at a time, one generated story plot at a time.
Gandhi said, “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”
Thomas S. Monson, Prophet of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints said, “The Savior taught His disciples, “For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: but whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it” (Luke [9:24]).
He goes on, “I believe the Savior is telling us that unless we lose ourselves in service to others, there is little purpose to our own lives. Those who live only for themselves eventually shrivel up and figuratively lose their lives, while those who lose themselves in service to others grow and flourish—and in effect save their lives.”
Or in other words, to write the best possible life story, where the hero’s life is saved in the end, that hero’s journey is going to need to be filled with a lot of looking outward, with kindness, with service, with moments of creating goodness for the sake of another. This is what makes the hero, and apparently, what saves his life in the end.
Did you know that Random Act of Kindness week is coming February 12-18? Neither did I, but I found the countdown clock and it’s drawing nearer with each passing second. On Randomactsofkindness.org they have lesson plans and calendars with RAK ideas for every day of the year. They are the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation. Who knew there was such a thing? But thank God there are people who are out there wanting to pour kindness into the world. Are you one of them?
I remember the first time I heard about RAK as a thing. It was in the 80’s and someone had gone around putting quarters in parking meters so folks wouldn’t get parking tickets. “What a great idea,” I thought. “So simple, so fun, and it has a really big WOW factor.” I’d never heard of any such thing. It was an ah-ha moment. I’ve grown to really like RAK’s because it’s become a bit of a game where the results are unknown. I pay for the guy behind me in the drive-thru – I have no idea how it will affect him. But I can bet, at the very least, he’s going to feel a little warm and fuzzy, and that’s going to translate into better thoughts and actions on his part. Maybe he’s had a hard day at work and he’s tired and grumpy. Maybe my $10 secret donation will change how he interacts with his kids or his wife when he gets home. Maybe he’ll pass it on by doing something nice for someone else. Maybe he was down to his last $10 before pay day, no way of knowing any of this, but you can bet that it’s adding joy to the world and you get to imagine what your butterfly effect might be.
On the About Us page on Randomactsofkindness.org it says:
“We know how important kindness is because we’ve all felt how important it is. But that’s not the only reason we know. Scientific studies have shown that random acts of kindness are good for you! They improve your life satisfaction by increasing your sense of belonging and self- worth, and they improve your health by decreasing your anxiety, depression and blood pressure. And here’s the best part: these benefits apply to the giver of kindness, the recipient of kindness, and anyone who witnesses the act! Every act improves the lives of at least three people.”
Looking beyond one’s self is sometimes not the first thing that comes to mind. When things are going well for us for we are often caught up in doing what we want. When we hit hard times it’s usually not even on our radar, because when we are suffering we are in a space of self-involvement. We hurt, so we focus on ourselves and what we can do to relieve our own pain. Ironically, sometimes (in fact, quite often) the best medicine is to look outward. To quit thinking about ourselves and to focus on others. It has a high success rate for getting us out of our own heads. It’s exactly what Gandhi and Christ were talking about.
I have another quote on my fridge from John Wesley, it says, “Do all the good you can. By all the means you can. In all the ways you can. At all the times you can. To all the people you can. As long as ever you can.” Even reading this quote makes me happy because the idea is a simple thought that breaks through any barriers or excuses why kindness shouldn’t be the response to any given situation. Every time I read it I smile, I get clear, and I think about what kindness I can show.
I’ve been trying over the past 3-4 months to really focus on random acts of kindness and sometimes it’s really hard to find one. So, I changed it to just ‘acts of kindness.’ They didn’t have to be random–that’s a little easier. Then my son proffered the idea that nothing is random according to his V-sauce research, so we called it, “unplanned acts of kindness.” But then I started feeling like in order to count them that they needed to be a kindness we wouldn’t usually do, and things like smiles and holding doors are things we would usually do. So it got more complicated and more complicated. When we’d had a hard day of finding random or ‘unplanned’ acts of kindness we began reporting back on simple things like going out of our way to have a more involved conversation with the checkout lady at the grocery store, or rushing to fill one another’s glasses at the dinner table so we could count that as an act of kindness. Suffice it to say, we are a work in progress…but what I think matters most, is that we pay enough attention, every day, to being just a little kinder and looking for that opportunity to add something kind to the world. It probably doesn’t matter what you name it, how big it is, or what it looks like, what matters is the way of living that it generates. A space of looking outward, of staying aware of who needs help, a habit of being thoughtful. Now I’m not saying I’m remembering every day – I’m not. I keep a little list on my phone so I can get excited when I look back and see all the good I’ve done, but also so I can track when I lose a week or two because I haven’t been paying attention. Like any good habit it takes practice. I think the key is like Rudyard Kipling said, “Delight in the little things.” Realize that by “small and simple things are great things brought to pass.” (Book of Mormon; Alma 37:6) Don’t let the idea of random acts of kindness overwhelm. One day I was walking my dog and I found a man trying to transfer a bunch of Halloween balloons from his car into a church. Instead, the balloons were blowing across the church lawn dancing and popping. I helped him round up the strays and secure them in the church. On another dog walk, there was a young man trying to stuff arm-fulls of raked leaves into a garbage bag he had hanging from the tree. He couldn’t get the bag to stay open the leaves just landed at his feet, all his hard work undone. I had the opportunity to hold his bag for him. It was a simple five minutes. I didn’t have to create it, I just had to be present and take the opportunity. There are probably more of those around us than we realize once we start paying attention.
As I mentioned earlier I often have a difficult time finding RAK ideas, so when I found Brad Aronson’s102 RAK suggestions on his web page, I stole some of them to add to my own list. Feel free to adapt any of these so they work in your world. Here’s a dozen ideas to get you started.
- Take a few minutes to support a young person’s dream. Find a youth in your circle of family and friends and talk with them about what they want to do. Empower and believe in them.
- Create a holiday to celebrate someone you love. Brad created a “Mia Appreciation Day” for his wife. Your appreciation day can be as simple as declaring the date of the holiday and writing a note.
- Put paper hearts or smiley faces in a box. On each cutout write something that is special about your lover or a good friend. Give her the box and tell her to pull out a heart or smiley face anytime she gets lonely or wants a pick me up.
- Find opportunities to give compliments. It costs nothing, takes no time, and could make someone’s entire day. Don’t just think it. Say it. Today at work an older gentleman walked up to me and said, “I’m too old to be hitting on you, but you look great today. I love that sweater.” What an unexpected and appreciated comment that was for me.
- Share overheard compliments. The other day someone told me how impressed they were with one of my sons. I shared this compliment with him when I got home.
- Start a habit of writing a short note of appreciation every morning when you open your in-box. Send it before you get started on your day.
- I make-up zip-lock baggies of snacks to give to homeless people if I run across them during my time downtown.
- Make a phone call to someone you need to Love Bomb and just tell them how much you love them. You’d be surprised how fabulous this goes over.
- One day I had a library fine and when I ran out to my car to get my wallet someone paid it for me. It was all very secret.
- Really listen. Not Talk. Just listen.
- Pick up a thoughtful, but small gift for someone you see daily, but for whom this action would be an unexpected treat. Just a favorite candy bar or some small item that reminds you of them, like their favorite drink.
- Forgive a debt of someone who owes you. Maybe you paid for Jenny’s lunch and she’s promised to pay you back. When she tries just let her know if was a gift.
Once you get started on this wonderful game it can get exciting. Often when you do an act of kindness to someone, they are inspired to pay it forward. What is your kindness creating in the world? It’s exciting to think about because you can’t know the specifics. It’s wonderful to imagine the affect one act can set into motion, the stone thrown in the pond, the domino tipped into the domino line, but you can’t really know what story you are writing. What you can know is that you are becoming a person who lives with more kindness, a person who creates kindness, a person who might just touch a lonely soul that was feeling desperately disconnected in a culture where far too many of us are lonely.
One day as I paid for the man’s dinner behind me in the Taco Bell drive-thru (a Chalupa is my one fast food indulgence) I realized that the attendant to whom I gave the money could just pocket it and no one would know the difference. When I brought this up with my coach, with whom I was reporting my RAKs to, she said, even if the attendant pocketed the money, you put the intent into the world to create a kindness – you affected the attendant, you put kindness into action. It doesn’t have to turn out the way you plan, but your intent, your energy, your giving has gone out into the world. This made me feel a little better about the idea that I couldn’t control all aspects of the game. In fact, it added a whole dimension to the idea that we cannot know what events a RAK puts into motion.
Kindness as a way of being. A mysterious game of fun and giving. One small effort to combat the age of loneliness. However you look at unplanned, or random, or planned and completely unrandom acts of kindness, there’s not really a downside. It’s like writing a mystery novel and you will never know all the details of the story, but you will be the force for good.
This week’s challenge, yup, you guessed it, try to find an act of kindness every day this week and see if you can’t start a new habit! Log in to www.loveyourstorypodcast.com and share with us what you did and what stories you created in the process. We’d love to hear about it. Have fun creating your stories and we’ll see you next Wednesday on the next episode of the Love Your Story podcast.