As promised, today’s post is about kindness… Random acts of kindness.
I find that we’ve all gotten too far away from the positive acts of humanity: The things we do to show someone that we appreciate them, that we are thinking about them, that they are important to us, or “just because.” Similarly, when we do anything like this for someone, instead of getting a simple “thank-you,” we get “oh, you didn’t have to do that!” or “I can’t let you do that!” or “I’d really appreciate if you didn’t!”
Why are we like this?
We all LOVE when someone thinks of us, shows us appreciation, or recognizes our efforts. Why is it, then, that we act like we don’t deserve their kindness? Or worse, we come off as unappreciative or insulted… I venture to guess that these acts of kindness make us feel uncomfortable and insecure about ourselves because we don’t think of doing them for other people.
A little while ago I lent someone the 50 Shades trilogy. When she returned the books to me, she included a $10 Starbucks card. I really wasn’t expecting to get anything in return for my “generosity;” after all, I was finished with the books and wasn’t using them anymore – why not lend them to a friend? Instead of the instinctual response to say “oh thanks, but you shouldn’t have,” I simply said, “Thanks! You’re so kind! I really appreciate it!” She was shocked at my reply and I could tell she was expecting to have to justify her actions. Instead, she got a huge smile on her face and continued on to tell me that my lending her the books saved her money and she wanted to do something nice for me in return. Her response was so gratifying for me because I knew she felt good about her decision to do something nice for me. If I had responded with one of those stock phrases that have become so commonplace in these instances, I probably would have made her feel uncomfortable or out of place…
How do I know?
Well just the other day I missed class because my baby had a doctor’s appointment. I asked a friend to help me out with the notes and some information for an assignment. She very willingly gave me what I needed and I was so appreciative (I should also note that this friend has helped me out in many other ways, on many occasions)! A few days later I was at Starbucks waiting for my coffee, saw the gift cards, and I thought, “Hey, why not get her a little something!” When I tried to give her the gift card, she would’t accept it! She kept saying that her actions didn’t require payment or a reward and that she didn’t feel right accepting the gift from me. I *know* she was probably trying to be polite, but the excitement I felt when I thought about giving her the gift was completely gone and replaced by some other, less flattering feeling (I can’t even really describe it). Instead of forcing her to take it from me, I just wanted to keep it and say, “fine, I can always use my own $10 at Starbucks.” But I didn’t; I made her take the card and I walked away wondering why I even bothered.
Receiving a thank-you gift for something is not really a random act of kindness. However, I began with that example because if we don’t graciously accept acts of gratitude from our friends and colleagues, how can we even begin to really appreciate random acts of kindness?
I am a firm believer in random acts of kindness! I LOVE when I am the recipient of such acts (which I should clarify, is often never)! I know how wonderful it makes me feel when someone does something for me completely out of the blue, with no real intention other than to make my day better. Whether it is pre-meditated or just completely spontaneous, it doesn’t matter, it still makes me feel great! I imagine it has the same effect on other people too! So although I am not the receiver or many random acts of kindness, I am a huge giver of random acts of kindness.
I’m not just talking about the simple, every day acts, like holding a door open, or lending someone in the coffee line a quarter as they frantically dig through their change purse and realize they don’t have enough… (those are great, but in my opinion, just plain courteous). I’m talking about thoughtful, planned acts that are directed specifically to make someone smile or to brighten their day.
By far, my most popular act of kindness is baking. I absolutely adore baking: It is what I do to relax, be creative, and have fun. I would be 600 lbs if I ate all my own baking so I always bring it to school and give it away to my classmates, nurses, doctors, residents… anyone, even people that I don’t know. I often like to leave baking for my favorite residents who are going to be on call that night, or just pop in a leave a cupcake or two on the desk of someone who I know is having a busy day. If there is baking, people just assume that it is from me! You might think that this can’t really be classified as a “random act of kindness” because I do it for myself – to fulfill my own needs. I would argue, however, that regardless of why I DO the baking, I choose to give it to people because I know it makes them happy!
My most favorite, FAVORITE, guilty pleasure, though, is giving anonymous, random gifts. There aren’t many people I do this for because it is quite hard to do while remaining anonymous and also ensuring that the recipient actually gets their gift. The recipients of these gifts are people whom I know work hard, have little time for themselves, probably don’t get much appreciation, and are probably the least expecting of a random gift. I keep it on neutral ground – they are not expensive, lavish, or excessive, and they are always delivered at work or school, so as not to worry people that they have some creepy secret admirer.
I love giving the items anonymously because then I can’t get those canned, “you really shouldn’t have” responses. I also feel that not having a person to attribute the action to makes it easier for the recipients to feel truly surprised and elated, leaving no room for feelings of guilt or the need to “repay” someone for their actions. As for how it makes me feel, I know it makes people feel good and that makes me happy! I know I would be over-the-moon if I got some cute, thoughtful, anonymous gift, thanking me for my effort, or telling me a little joke, or catching me off guard on a bad day. Who wouldn’t?
The best part of all, I think, is that it changes the course of someone’s day. It may mean nothing, but it may also make a huge difference in their life. It could be the motivation they needed to not give up in that moment; it could be the chuckle that helps them pull their chin up a bit higher… And, I’d like to think that it is one small step towards encouraging people to think about the kind actions they do for the people in their lives.