Tag Archives: random acts of kindness

29 Days: That’s a Wrap

IMG_0817On October 8th, 2013 I embarked on a 29-day random act of kindness project in celebration of my 29th Birthday. What I learned may surprise you.

1) Being kind doesn’t always feel good. When I began the project I imagined experiencing immense satisfaction after completing each act. I imagined smiling ear to ear, tears welling up in my eyes, as I congratulated myself on a job well done. I frequently got emotionally reading other people’s stories of kindness that my own adventures had to lead to the same feel-good reaction. Right?

Wrong. Most of the time after finishing my act of the day I felt fairly indifferent. Sometimes I even felt downright disappointed. It took most of the project to figure out why.

First, I entered into this endeavor with very specific expectations. First, I would do nice things. Then people would be happy and appreciative. Finally, I would feel good. I forgot that out of those three elements I have no control over the second one: the reactions of others.

Maybe it’s because people don’t expect a stranger to do something nice. Maybe it’s because what I considered to be a kind gesture they considered to be an annoyance. Maybe it’s because I am terrible at interpreting emotions. Whatever the reason, peoples’ reactions were mostly unenthused.

Have you ever watched Ellen or Oprah? You know that moment where she gives an unsuspecting guest a check for 10,000, a new car, or some other extravagant gift? The person breaks down crying, hands covering the mouth in disbelief. Apparently fun-sized candy bars and $10 gift cards don’t elicit quite the same reaction.

Expecting that they would was doing myself a disservice. Expecting that they should was doing the recipient a disservice. Acting with kindness shouldn’t have self-serving motives; it kind of defeats the purpose. It’s not wrong to hope that what I did made people happy but it’s only going to be frustrating to me if I hinge the success of that random act on exactly how happy I make the recipient or how that happiness is expressed. I had to learn to just be content in the knowledge that I had done something nice, regardless of the outcome.

Secondly, a lot of the time I didn’t get to see the reactions others had to what I was doing. I equate it to getting invested in a really good book only to find out that the last couple chapters are missing. It’s a lot of build up with no resolution. It really forced me to evaluate my motivations behind the project. Was I only being kind to get something in return? Is it a bad thing if I was? Does that negate the good I might have done? Is it even possible to be completely altruistic?

I don’t yet know the answers to these questions, but I am fairly certain of one thing. Acting with kindness will always be the right thing to do, regardless of how I feel about it. Or in other words, things don’t always have to feel good for them to be good.

2) Being kind isn’t life-altering. I made the mistake of entering into this with the mindset that I could change the world, one random act at a time. I thought I would see a tangible and immediate effect. I’m finishing the project with a slightly different perspective.

One small random act of kindness is simply that, one act. The chances of it having any far-reaching effects are minimal. Setting off a chain reaction of kindness is a nice in theory, but the reality is more akin to pushing over one domino that may or not be close enough to hit the next.

Does that mean I shouldn’t even try? No. It means I have to try harder. It means every one has to try harder. To use a sports analogy, if I’m shooting free throws and can only make 1/10 shots, then I better shoot that ball ten times if I want to make the shot. Having something be challenging isn’t an incentive to give up, it’s an invitation to try harder.  

I’m starting to think of acts of kindness less like dominoes in a row and more like drops of water behind a damn. One kind act isn’t going to catalyze a major change. It takes an accumulation of acts, slowly building over time, to finally burst through.

I also have to remind myself that from my vantage point it’s hard to see the big picture. Like a musician tasked with learning one instrument’s part in a symphony, it’s hard to appreciate the notes you’re playing until they are combined with the rest of the orchestra.

I am only person, carrying out one random act of kindness at a time. But so is every one else. We are all only one person. I imagine if I could step back and see all the single acts occurring in unison they might start to look a little more monumental. They might start to sound like music.

3) “Random” is a very misleading term. Very carefully planned and executed acts of kindness are more descriptive of what I actually did.

Think of it like this. Being kind is a skill, and like any skill you have to practice if you want to get better at it. Recognizing opportunities for random acts of kindness became easier throughout the 29 days as I carried out my intentional acts. The elderly lady carrying groceries that I walked right past on day one I noticed by day eight. The guy begging for change that I didn’t see on day two got my attention by day ten.

I don’t feel that this project lacking true randomness detracts from the experience at all. If we all are waiting for opportunities to present themselves, who knows how long we’d be waiting. Like all things in life, it never hurts to be proactive.

Where to go from here? With the 29 days over, I’ve been thinking a lot about the direction I want this blog to head. More ramblings about my own acts of kindness? A report of acts of kindness from around the world? Interviews with people who are making a difference through their kind acts?

I’d love your input!

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Day 5: Surprise a Friend With Movie Tickets and Babysitting

“When I was young, I used to admire intelligent people; as I grow older, I admire kind people.” –Abraham Joshua Heschel

IMG_0348I met my best friend Danielle in the 4th grade. We were both the shy, nerdy kids in class, and quickly bonded over our mutual awkwardness. Many of my favorite childhood memories include Danielle. Bumbling through dance classes. Summer vacations spent climbing sand dunes and lounging on the beach. The weekend nights we dressed up as the Spice Girls or Gwen Stefani and rocked out to  “Wannabe” and “I’m Just A Girl.”

My high school and college years saw many friends come and go but Danielle and I have always remained close. She’s seen me through heartbreak, cross country moves, quarter life crises, graduate school drop outs, marriage, and the birth of my son. She has been my shoulder to cry on when life got hard and the first person to congratulate me when I found success. She has been one of the more permanent, steadfast fixtures in my life, and for that I am very grateful.

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Last January she welcomed her son into the world, and like all new parents, her priorities shifted. The time she used to spend focusing on herself became time she spent caring for her son. Date nights turned into family story and bath time. Late night movie marathon became late night feeding and diaper changing sessions. And meals out were traded in for plastic coated spoons of pureed carrots.

She is a great mother, and I know she wouldn’t trade parenthood in for anything, but as her friend it’s nice to be able to give her a couple hours of self-indulgence.

When I decided to gift her with movie tickets and babysitting I knew I wanted it to be a surprise. I contacted her husband who helped me coordinate a day and time to come over. He tricked her into thinking they were going out to run errands so she was all ready when I arrived. When I showed up and told her why I was really there she was pleasantly surprised. Afternoon movies always win out over running errands!

And as a bonus I got to hang out with this little guy for a few hours. I think we both came out ahead.

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Day 4: Donate Cat Food to the Humane Society

“Kindness is a language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.” –Mark Twain

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When I was young, I wanted a pet. What kid doesn’t right? In kindergarten I settled for the goldfish I won at the church festival. I named her Goldie and spent one wonderful week admiring her shiny orange scales before my dad took her on a trip to the “fish farm.” In elementary school I upgraded to two hamsters. A couple months later I had 20 hamsters and a sinking suspicion that the pet store employee needed a refresher course on hamster anatomy.

By junior high I set my sights on getting a pet that was a little more cuddly and a lot less flushable. After much begging, my dad took my sister and I to the local Humane Society where we adopted a cat named Annabelle. She immediately became an integral member of the family.

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The Humane Society is the nation’s largest animal protection organization. Our local branch cares for around 4,000 animals each year and relies on donations for most of its funding. I looked on their website to see if they collected donations and it turns out they have a wish list posted containing items that they need most. I picked the first item listed and headed off to the store with Oliver to make our purchase.

Oliver inspected all the cans of cat food for superior quality and freshness.

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We dropped off the donation at the shelter and then stayed for awhile to play with the cats. Oliver was amused because so many of the cat toys looked like smaller versions of toys he had at home. He kept trying to crawl through the cat tunnel and climb up the scratching posts. When that didn’t work, he started up a game of follow the leader. The cats led and he followed. I’m pretty sure he made a few news friends today. I’m just thankful he’s too young to ask to take one home.

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Day 1: Leave Flowers on the Doorstep of a Neighbor

“Happiness doesn’t result from what we get, but from what we give.” ― Ben Carson

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Well, it’s finally here. Today is day one of my 29 days of kindness.

I have the same feeling that you get at the beginning of a new relationship. It’s a mix of nerves and excitement. I’m looking forward to see what the next 29 days has in store, to see where this experiment will take me. But I’m nervous to be putting myself out there; I’m nervous about the potential for misunderstandings and confusion, for skeptical looks from my recipients.

Being kind shouldn’t be complicated, but sometimes it feels that way. I don’t know that we live in a world where everyday acts of kindness are the norm, so it will be interesting to see how people respond.

To ease my way into it, I started with an act that didn’t leave me face to face with my recipient: I left a vase of flowers on a neighbor’s doorstep.

I live in an apartment complex. At the end of my building lives a young couple. I see them regularly on my daily walks, and we always say “hello” to each other and smile, otherwise I know very little about them beyond what the exterior of their apartment tells me. Thankfully, it tells me one thing loud and clear: someone that lives there likes plants.

Now an apartment place is nowhere near the ideal gardening environment, but this couple has managed to turn the corner of the building into a miniature botanical garden. I’m incredibly impressed, especially since this is the result of my sole attempt at plant care and maintenance since living here:

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I can grow fake plants like a champ!

My 1-year-old son Oliver helped me pick out the festive fall flowers from the local grocery store. Add in a mini scarecrow and a little butterfly (leftover decorations from my wedding) and it was a pretty cute arrangement.

The card attached reads “You are the recipient of a RAOK (random act of kindness).” It then follows with the quotes:

“Spread love everywhere you go. Let no one ever come to you without leaving happier.” –Mother Teresa

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These cute cards are courtesy of the website Thirty Handmade Days. I plan on attaching one to each act of kindness, when possible, and then writing my own “29 random acts of kindness” tag along with the number of the recipient. For example, today was #1.

I felt like a stealth ninja when it came time to drop the flowers off on the doorstep. I waited until I saw the couple take off for a jog and then sprinted over to make the drop before they returned.

I was kind of bummed when I realized I wouldn’t get to see their reaction to the flowers, but then I remembered an important thing about this project, about being kind. We don’t do nice things for the potential joy it has to bring to us, we do it because we want to bring joy to another. And today I hope I did just that.

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