My uncle Fred died recently, and the world lost a truly kindhearted man. His presence will be missed, but his legacy of kindness will live on.
His wasn’t the big-event, the splashy show of doing something good, the type of thing that dazzles your mind but that you quickly forget. His was the small, apt kindness that warmed your heart and snuggled into your memory. A kind word. A smile. And often, just being there for you.
More than ever, we need kindness. Our society is becoming more aggressively competitive. Today, it’s only winning that counts. How you play the game only matters when it helps you win the game.
We are entertained by violent actions and by violent language. It’s the cutting comment and putdown that get the applause.
These are not the types of behaviours that foster acceptance, respect or trust, attributes that are essential for social cohesion. In other words, our social fabric is fraying because aggression, competitiveness and violence are shredding our social bonds.
But we are not powerless. We can do something to counteract the shredding.
We can be kind.
It can be as easy and simple as saying thank you. Whenever I buy lunch from a fast food outlet, I make a point of saying, “Thank you for making my lunch.” Invariably, they break out into a smile. I’ve just made their day, in a positive way, and their smile warms my heart.
We can practice random acts of kindness. When we notice an attractive outfit, it’s easy to compliment the person on their outfit. We can buy a few $5 gift certificates from a coffee shop and hand them out at random. We can hold the door open for someone, or let someone who seems to be in a hurry go ahead of us in line. We can donate used books to a school library or nursing home or seniors’ residence.
The idea for random acts of kindness apparently started in 1982 in Sausalito, California, when Anne Herbert scrawled “Practice random acts of kindness and senseless acts of beauty” on a place mat. The idea caught on because the act of kindness benefits the giver as well as the receiver.
Acts of kindness trigger good feelings and reduce stress. An act of kindness triggers the release of dopamine (the feel-good neurotransmitter) and oxytocin (the social bonding hormone). It also triggers the vagus nerve, whose effects are known as the relaxation response.
And those are just the effects it has on the giver and the receiver. Each act of kindness re-weaves a thread in our social fabric.
The idea of random acts of kindness has grown to the point that The Random Acts of Kindness Foundation has its own web site with ideas, information and resources.
Remember, it doesn’t take a huge effort or big dollars to be kind. A kind word and a smile don’t cost a penny and yet, they’re a priceless gift.
Thank you, Uncle Fred.
Troy Media columnist Anne McTavish is a conflict coach and lawyer. Her book, Beyond Anger Management, is due for release shortly. Her column is distributed through www.troymedia.com.