By Yme Woensdregt
“Do random acts of kindness.” We’ve all seen the bumper sticker. Being kind does two things: it makes us feel good about ourselves; and it helps someone else.
But it also does something else. Kindness changes the world. It sounds like an outrageous claim. But hear me out.
A few months ago, I read an interview with Cesar Chavez, the labour leader and civil rights activist. He is best known for founding the National Farm Workers Association and organizing the grape boycott in California, which resulted in higher wages for immigrant workers who worked for grape and lettuce growers.
An interviewer once asked Chavez, “How do you start a movement?” He replied, “You talk to one person; then you talk to another; after that, you talk to another.” The reporter asked again, “Yes, yes, but how do you organize a movement?” Chavez replied, “You talk to one person; then you talk to another; after that, you talk to another.”
The same applies to how we can change the world through random acts of kindness. Be kind to one person; then be kind to another; then be kind to another person.
This seems more necessary these days than it ever has been. Kindness seems to have gone out of fashion. Last month, several members of the US Capitol Police testified very movingly about the trauma they experienced on January 6 during the insurrection at the US Capitol.
The next day, hosts on FOX News ridiculed them for their testimony, laughing publicly about the trauma and pain these officers experienced, and humiliating them for their service.
We saw the same kind of nastiness when some mocked gymnast Simone Biles for withdrawing from competing in her Olympic events for mental health reasons. We saw it when a motorist struck a Muslim family with his car in London, ON. We see it all over the place.
When did kindness become such a scarce feature of human life? What is gained with this kind of nastiness? What do these highly paid hosts hope to gain from such cruelty? It’s not just highly paid infotainers. Politics has become a blood sport. Protest movements have become exercises in nastiness and name–calling.
As a result, life has become increasingly brutal.
It’s time for that to change. We need to stop rewarding cruel people. This kind of behaviour, which we would never tolerate from our children, must stop. We must begin practicing kindness, once again, and be aware of what we are actually doing and how we affect the people with whom we share this earthly life.
In a blog I read a few years ago, the author mentioned that as he was fumbling for his boarding pass at the airport, he dropped a dollar (presumably an American paper dollar). A woman told him, “Sir you dropped a dollar.” “Her son picked it up, and I told the boy he could have the dollar. Another guy comes up to me after and said, ‘That was really nice of you—that kid will remember that the rest of his life.’”
The writer Maya Angelou once said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said; people will forget what you did; but people will never forget how you made them feel. Continue to be who and what you are, to astonish a mean world with your acts of kindness. Continue to allow humour to lighten the burden of your tender heart.”
We have the ability to radically change someone’s life for good by making them feel good, either by a kind act or word. As we live more kindly, we do in fact change the world.
Of course, kindness by itself doesn’t change much. Kindness needs to become action. We need to learn to speak kindly, act kindly, respond kindly, live kindly.
A few years ago, I found a website which promotes the “1,000 Acts of Kindness Challenge” (1000acts.ca?). It is “a social movement that encourages people to end hate by spreading kindness—one generous act at a time!”
It was initiated in 2009 by the LUSO Community Services program in London, Ontario. It challenged people living in London and surrounding communities to complete 1,000 acts of kindness during October. The movement took off, and over 50,000 acts of kindness were recorded. Since then, the movement has spread throughout Canada and the USA.
Let’s make it a reality in Cranbrook every day.
What kind of acts of kindness can we engage in? Simple things. Inexpensive things. Wonderful things.
Buy someone a cup of coffee. Smile at someone. Say thank you to the cashier at the grocery store, and call them by name; after all, they wear name tags for a reason. Open a door for someone whose arms are full. Offer to rake leaves for your elder neighbor. Help a new mom in your neighbourhood. Be grateful. Don’t cuss at the driver who’s trying to cut in front of you; just let them in. After all, it will only delay you 3 or 4 seconds. Encourage someone instead of criticizing them. Be present. Drop a can of soup in the food bin for the Food Bank.
Most importantly, in these days of a fourth wave of this deadly pandemic, wear a mask. Get vaccinated. Care for others in your community instead of insisting on your own rights and everyone else be damned.
This is not the easy way. It somehow seems easier to be unkind. But we can choose each day to live more kindly. As we do so, we will change the world. Swiss philosopher Henri–Frederic Amiel reminded us, “Life is short, and we never have enough time for the hearts of those who travel the way with us. O, be swift to love! Make haste to be kind.”
Can you think of a better thing to do than that?
You can start today! It’s simple. It’s easy. It’s satisfying.
Yme Woensdregt is a retired Anglican Priest living in Cranbrook