Another question I have been pondering about kindness, is the difference between ‘random acts of kindness’ versus ‘known acts of kindness’ have an affect on the recipient?
Do people prefer to acknowledge kindness when it arrives?
Which in theory to me, subsequently affects the ‘pay it forward’ discipline – when you receive does it inspire you to give?
If you look up random acts of kindness online you’ll discover it is a massive topic in forums, blogs and websites – there are whole movements and people dedicating their life mission to this type of activity. Like one of my ‘passionate lives’ interviewees last year, Jono Fisher who runs Wake Up Sydney! They distribute kindness cards that ask people to pass on once they have received and used them. There are so many other organisations doing similar work – it makes me so pleased that this type of behaviour is so popular and well received globally. Can you consider ways you acknowledge the acts of kindness in your life; a smile to a stranger when they open a door, thanking the barista in the eye when he makes your coffee, thanking the bus driver for getting you to your destination, giving a friendly wave to a fellow driver for letting you in front during peak hour traffic, or some warm words to a colleague after a successful meeting.
For me, I like to acknowledge kindness when I receive it. There is nothing more humbling for me than being able to say ‘thank you’ for simple (and grand gestures) of kindness. From a glass of wine being purchased for me by a friend, someone making time to talk through a problem I am experiencing, cooking me dinner, joining me to exercise and motivate me to keep going, giving me a lift, sharing conversations on my dreams and supporting them wholeheartedly, right up to making a birthday a super special occasion.
I asked a few friends to let me know some acts of kindness they have received. I asked for details on the deed and how it made them feel, however my curiosity was whether or not the person giving the kindness was known or if it was done anonymously.
Here are some of the amazing ways people have influenced the lives of others:
I’ve highlighted “unexpected” because this act of kindness was not expected from this person at all. Four years ago, whilst getting ready for work I got a call from my sister to tell me that my nephew wasn’t breathing and he was being rushed to hospital. My flat mate saw how anxious I became trying to get ready to rush over. Without any hesitation, she told me that she would drive me and didn’t even think twice about how late she would be to work. She just did it and also called my work for me to explain. I have a newfound respect and sincere gratitude for this person, and will never forget the act of selflessness and kindness she showed at my time of need.
When I first came to Australia, I was such an immature person in terms of surviving and getting by. I stayed for 3 ½ weeks in a home stay accommodation… I had no idea where to go after those weeks, then a classmate of mine offered me floor space in his room until I found a place for myself. It was so nice of him, I barely knew him at that time and I felt like he was my saviour. It made me think a lot about giving and taking, even though you belong to different country, culture and lifestyle you can still do good deeds for others.
Being picked up from the airport by a friend, it’s a lovely gesture and made me feel special and thankful.
My girlfriend offering to make me cups of tea, makes me feel loved and cared for.
I was walking with my son in the pram and a walker-by stopped to help us down the stairs as he could see me struggling to manage on my own. It was really helpful, we shared a big smile exchange and I was able to say thank you before he continued on his way.
People in Brisbane are very nice when driving, they always let you in and don’t cut you off. I think it is kind! Makes me feel less stressed and without road rage… something I had every day in Sydney!
A stranger on the bus gave me a $2 fair because the bus driver couldn’t change my $20 note. At the time I had just moved to Sydney from interstate, was a bit disoriented with the bus routes and the bus driver made a bit of a scene about me not having the right change in front of a full bus at peak hour, it was raining, and I was running late to work on my first day. He said I couldn’t get on the bus. I didn’t know the person but I was able to thank them for giving them the change and they didn’t want me to repay them. There weren’t a lot of words exchanged just kind glances. Mine was relief and gratitude and the stranger looked happy to help and compassionate for my situation. It brought me to tears in a happy way. I was so overwhelmed and I’ve never forgotten it. It was 10 years ago in fact. It was easy to receive and hard. I felt vulnerable but extremely grateful at the same time.
I am not a good flyer in turbulence. On this particular flight, the circumstances were not the best. My dad was going in for emergency surgery and I was flying from Sydney to Melbourne. The stranger sitting next to me noticed my fear as the plane had pretty bad turbulence. She asked if I were ok? I teared up as her kind question reminded me why I was flying in the first place. I told her I was on my way to see my dad who was having a very serious operation and I was not good in turbulence. She said her daughter was the same and it helped when she held her hand. She asked me if I would like to hold her hand. I did and it made me feel strong and cared for and enormously grateful. It was easy to receive. I completely surrendered in the moment and felt her care and comfort and took enormous strength from that. She was like a guardian angel when I needed one most.
A very special act of kindness was given to me by my daughter – a trip to overseas with airfares and accommodation paid for. It made me feel very, very special and very grateful to be given such a wonderful present. The cash payment was generous, but what was even more special was the time that we were able to share together; relaxing, having fun and just chilling out. It wasn’t easy to receive, as I felt that I should be contributing as well. It was hard to accept my child giving to me, where normally I would take responsibility for her care.
My act of kindness was receiving a gorgeous, hand-written card in the mail today from my best friend – completely unexpected and loved it.
The results of random vs. known acts of kindness?
Reading above its about 60/40 of known to unknown, so I’d still say the results are ranging pretty close to one another. From these responses and thinking of my own life I do feel like I am surrounded by kindness and often don’t explicitly recognise its presence. The first sentence from most of the above responses off my friends said they needed to think about it, so doing the exercise – remembering the acts of kindness can be tricky, but also comforting to know it’s the little daily interactions with others that build a sense of generosity – it’s not always the bold ones that need to be recognised.
From my research of the topic, I read an interesting article in Psychology Today about a study a Stanford professor did with students on acts of kindness – to test whether good deeds for others have a direct effect on our wellbeing. The main finding was that acts of kindness gives people a strong sense they’re doing something that matters. The results were stronger in those who felt that their efforts where appreciated. These findings confirm my belief that random acts are useful and still a fantastic way to spread kindness, but when the giver and receiver are actually able to acknowledge one another the power of the exchange is stronger. To further support, Jonathan Haidt the author of The Happiness Hypothesis says that random acts are often a one shot deal, and the process of sharing kindness is about building social relationships. Even when you don’t know the person the connection you have in that moment is crucial.
The act of receiving kindness does encourage me to pass it on to others, the enjoyment I get from making others feel special can be quite contagious. This brings me to the ‘pay it forward’ theory – again it has a whole community out there supporting it. The basic premise is that rather than repaying the original benefactor, you spread the kindness on to a new recipient, and they do the same, so there is a cyclical effect of the generosity. Made famous by the movie and books of the same title and essence, it’s quite a well-known (and thriving) way of seeing how generosity spreads and returns to you. I quite like it, and believe from the many conversations I’ve had over the years that receiving kindness from others is one of the biggest incentives for the majority of people to pass it on in another form to others. I really do like the cyclical nature of kindness and the inspiration it creates.
Experiment a little…
So what has the above taught you about appreciating kindness from others, and also the opportunity to build a kindness succession around you?
Can you start to look at daily ways to build acknowledgment of kindness into your way of being, through appreciating gestures from strangers and people you know?
Are you participating in the pay it forward activities? Do you feel compelled to distribute the kindness further after it’s been shared with you? Pay It Forward Day is in April, perhaps that is an opportunity to join in a global energy for sharing.