Being a Force for Good (In a World Often Marked by Bad)
I wholeheartedly believe that there’s a positive correlation between happiness and kindness. Despite living in a world that’s more interconnected than ever, we are more disconnected and isolated than we have ever been. How many people do you encounter on a daily basis that you don’t really see? Whether that be on your daily commute, at the gym, or even at the office beyond your self-contained cubicle?
Over the past fortnight I have been conducting an experiment whereby I conduct at least one random act of kindness a day. This seemed achievable enough that this could become part of my daily routine, yet not so overwhelming and demanding that I would lose motivation and quit. The idea for this so-called experiment was triggered by a random act of kindness that I witnessed on my daily commute.
En route to work one morning, a fellow passenger had become unresponsive. Fortunately, the girl she had been sitting next to made this news known to the broader carriage’s passengers. The speed at which a doctor on board came to this girl’s aid, accompanied by a passenger trained in basic first aid, was awe-inspiring to watch. The duo quickly alerted the train’s conductor so that the necessary medical assistance could be arranged at the next station. Had they not acted as swiftly and as graciously as they did, the scenario may have not had the positive ending that it did.
To brainstorm ideas for my experiment, I asked my friends and colleagues for an example of a random act of kindness that had been bestowed upon them in recent history. One friend detailed a story of crying outside a café when the venue’s manager invited her inside for a beverage and proceeded to console her as he divulged his life story. Another friend, whose young nephew was visiting at the time, recounted a neighbour leaving a basket of toys on her doorstep one morning. They had noticed a young visitor and decided to extend the assortment of toys they had on offer for his enjoyment.
The thing that I like most about extending acts of kindness, be they random or not, is the idea that such acts really do create a ripple effect. When I think back to random acts of kindness which have been bestowed upon me, I am made aware of the impact that such acts have had and continue to have on my behaviour.
For example, my first full-time job came about on the back of an internship which was kindly extended to me by the organisation’s marketing manager. I felt overwhelmed and disheartened about the sheer number of hoops set up by organisations as part of the internship application process. So, I thought I would try my luck at contacting the managers of a few companies which I felt an affinity with. While the majority came back with responses along the lines of, “thanks, but no thanks” or worse yet, no response at all, I credit my first full-time job to the kindness of a stranger who recognised something in me and extended an internship opportunity. As a result, whenever I am contacted via LinkedIn for internship or career advice, I always take it upon myself to extend the favour and oblige the stranger with similar kindness.
Another example that comes to mind is the act of kindness of a stranger in my first half-marathon. While it’s quite natural to feel lethargic and unmotivated in the last few kilometres of an endurance event, I was helped along by the thoughtfulness of a fellow runner. She ultimately sacrificed her own finishing time to cheer me on and help motivate me across the finish line. After the event, I looked up the name of the kind individual who had supported me, and chose to support her by donating funds to the cause she was running for as a small token gratitude. To further extend this act of kindness, I try to extend support to friends raising funds for endurance events, in the way that they have supported me.
I can’t suggest that the random acts of kindness I carried out during my experiment – from helping out lost tourists to giving up my seat on the train – made any significant impact on the world. However, I would like to think that these acts made a difference to the respective individuals involved. Either way, I know these acts brought a smile to my day and helped me become more aware of my surroundings.
Here is a summary of the lessons I gained from this experiment:
1. Random acts of kindness are a win-win-win situation. The person you’re helping benefits from your help. You feel good for having helped someone. And the world is a better place through your kindness.
2. Slow down and breathe in order to become more attuned to your surroundings to identify opportunities where you may be able to extend your help.
3. Pause before responding, remembering that your behaviour impacts on the mood and behaviour of the people you are dealing with.
4. Develop your social IQ. Everyone is fighting their own battle so consider the various circumstances which may have led someone to acting rude or selfish in a public setting.
5. Assume the best in people because each person matters. Anne Frank famously said, “Despite everything, I believe that people are really good at heart.” What’s your excuse?
Imagine the type of place the world would be if everyone treated others as they would like to be treated. I challenge you to conduct your own week - or fortnight - of random acts of kindness to the see the changes this experiment may bring about in your life.
Join me in bringing back the lost art of civility; because a little civility can cross big boundaries.