This week I learned the value of small acts of kindness. We walked into class and saw ten $10 bills laid out. Our instruction was to each take $10 and do something with it in the community. The catch was that we could not just donate it, instead, we had to figure out a way to make that little bit of money make the biggest impact. We could pool the money if we chose to, or we could individually do something with our $10. Our first idea was to go buy as many sanitary and food products as we could, based on the needs of a couple of selected shelters and drop them off. As soon as we split into cars we began questioning if we were really getting the point of the activity. We were concerned that by donating goods we were essentially just donating the money, as we had been instructed not to do. We were running out of time, though, we only had 2 and a half hours total to do something with the money.
We finally decided to each take our $10 and buy a gift card with it from Walmart and give it to a stranger. On a piece of notebook paper, I wrote a quote by Neil Gaiman, author of Coraline, and it goes like this:
I hope you will have a wonderful year, that you’ll dream dangerously and outrageously, that you’ll make something that didn’t exist before you made it, that you will be loved and that you will be liked, and that you will have people to love and to like in return. And, most importantly (because I think there should be more kindness and more wisdom in the world right now), that you will, when you need to be, be wise, and that you will always be kind.
I sealed this note along with the gift card in an envelope and took it back into Walmart to find someone to give it to. I really wanted to give it to a worker, someone who spends all day working for other people without receiving many thanks. So, I got in line where a small, smiley elderly woman was ringing up another woman. I waited until she finished and walked up, handed her the envelope and said
“Hi, I am not buying anything today but I wanted to say thank you for your work and have a wonderful rest of your day.”
She smiled, said thank you and I walked away. Although I wanted to see her reaction, I knew the purpose of the activity was to normalize small acts of kindness in our daily lives so I did not linger. As I was leaving I noticed the woman who had been in front of me watched as the elderly woman opened the card and although I do not know how the act was taken, I can only hope it inspired her to do something kind in her day.
I felt like I was on a high as I walked back to the car. I hadn’t even done anything that significant, but just the fact that I acknowledged someone and maybe made their day a little bit better made me feel happiness beyond my control. When the class reconvened, the feeling was mutual among all of us. It was amazing how long it had taken us to decide on such a simple act of kindness and the magnitude of the satisfaction we all felt for having done it.
The takeaway: You cannot be an advocate for large-scale issues if you cannot be an advocate of kindness and demonstrate concern for others throughout your daily life.