About a month ago, I embarked on an experiment to do a random act of kindness every day for one week. I expected to debrief my experience in a relatively predictable way. You know, something like, “Wow! My week of kindness showed me how much I can light up people’s lives when I’m there for them! (Insert Hallmark Channel-worthy story here).”
So I did it! I Googled ideas and read inspiring stories on the Random Acts of Kindness website and looked at Grotto’s list so that I could get in the mindset. But I got off to an iffy start. The week of my experiment, I was supposed to make a really hard decision that was keeping me up at night and causing me to feel anxious. In fact, I even delayed the start of the experiment by a day or two because I was stressed and wasn’t feeling in a generous mood. I thought about postponing my kindness week until I made the decision. It made me wonder if I’m a person who has to feel not stressed out in order to be kind?
Instead of delaying it further, though, I loosely mapped out my kind acts and charged ahead with the week. By the end of the week, I:
Gave a free breakfast ticket I had for a local cafe to my new coworker;
Emailed someone who had been an important part of my life when I was living abroad;
Visited a friend who had gone to the hospital;
Paid for someone else’s laundry by leaving money behind with the attendant to give to the next person (the laundry attendant was pretty puzzled);
Gave cupcakes and desserts leftover from a potluck to a neighbor I didn’t know;
Wrote a long Facebook message to a former coworker providing support to her during a difficult time;
Sent a postcard to my aunt to tell her I was thinking of her.
My conclusions after that week were much messier than I expected. While I did feel good about what I’d done, I was surprised by how hard it was. More than anything else, this week revealed to me my weaknesses and blindspots.
You know how they say that when you are feeling good, it’s easy to be kind? I wasn’t feeling good that week. During that week I was also spending a lot of mental energy to wrestle with that big decision I mentioned. Some days, remembering to do my act of service felt like pulling teeth. I didn’t naturally want to let go of those little things — like the free breakfast coupon or those awesome leftover desserts. And the day I visited my sick friend, I knew it was the right thing to do, but honestly, I just wanted to go home. It sounds selfish, but that’s how I felt.
During that week, I learned that a few other people close to me were having tough times. I knew I should reach out to them, but I chose not to. I was at the end of my rope, and subconsciously, I thought my random acts of kindness checked the box for my good deed of the day. I will help them when I’m feeling better, I told myself. I’ve fulfilled my kindness quota already. Someone else will be there.
Looking back, I can see that by focusing on my official project of Being Kind Everyday, and not lifting my head from my own problems, I missed out on being kind every day in small ways. I missed the point!
It’s been a month since that week of random acts of kindness. It taught me to look outside myself and not get caught up in my bubble — a lesson that has stuck with me. In the time since, I’ve made a conscious effort to call faraway loved ones. I stepped up to show extra support in a particularly difficult period with my students rather than turning away when they needed me. I even cancelled my plans one night when a friend really needed to talk ASAP.
In turn, I’ve benefited from others’ kindness in the past month. A friend called out of the blue and I was able to have the conversation I was longing for just when I needed it. A perfect stranger accepted a networking interview with me. I got a random care package from a cousin. When I went to the emergency room with a broken wrist, my boss stayed by my side for a whole afternoon.
So now I’m looking critically at my approach to the holiday season ahead. Just like in my kindness experiment, the holiday rush can make it easy to miss opportunities to help the person in front of me. Christmas and Thanksgiving are supposed to be times of generosity, kindness, and togetherness, but those values are meaningless if I focus on the flashy parties and gifts and fail to incorporate them in everyday ways with people around me.
This holiday season, let us not miss the mark overlooking the everyday moments where we can extend ourselves just a little more to be present to someone in need. As long as we try to look outward, and keep our vision above the holiday have-tos and the must-dos, we will be able to rise to the moment to help people when they cross our paths.
That kind of specific, tangible, ordinary kindness is a true embodiment of the Christmas spirit. After all, it’s a feast that celebrates God coming to us in a very small way in a very specific time and place. Just because something is small or ordinary doesn’t mean it isn’t important. In fact, taking the time to show love in a small and ordinary way might mean more than the extravagant acts we might dream of but never get around to.