A few years ago, doing “random acts of kindness” was all the rage. People delighted in paying for the order of the car behind them in the drive-through line at the fast food restaurant. Others kept change in their pockets, so they could put money in parking meters about to expire. These acts and others were highly publicized and applauded. One kind deed would inspire another as each recipient would “pay it forward;” do a kindness after having received one, all without disclosing one’s identity. It was like a big game of Secret Santa, or Secret Friends!
While I am a big fan of these random acts of kindness and was happy to find such actions listed recently in an article about living a meaningful and happy life, I think for 2017, we might need to focus more on some other types of kindness too. One type is specific acts of kindness, rather than the random ones. Specific kindness is choosing to be helpful, generous, and forgiving to those who are around us on a regular basis: family members, neighbors, friends, co-workers, and fellow students. Sometimes these to whom we are close challenge our ability to be kind. Being kind is a choice. Even if we react and lash out at someone, an apology afterward for our behavior is an act of specific kindness. Random acts of kindness with its anonymity, has no complicated relationships involved. Specific acts of kindness is a greater effort since it occurs in the on-going relationships. I’ve seen Advent students offering these kindnesses to one another: when someone drops all their books in the hall by stopping to help pick up everything; staying late to clean up after class without being asked to do so; returning a younger sibling’s wave hello, even when clearly embarrassed to do so; apologizing for a joke taken too far.
One further type of kindness to commend for 2017 is real person kindness. It is between the random and the specific acts of kindness. It involves how to interact with store clerks, servers, public servants, and others with whom we come into contact but with whom we do not have a personal relationship. Acts of real person kindness are treating the person who is serving us, whether it is a bank teller or a grocery store checker, as the real person that he is. The person taking my credit card or sacking my purchase is a real person. I try to treat her as such with a simple hello and a sincere inquiry about her day. I throw my phone into my purse, make eye contact, and really listen. It’s how I would want to be treated, (just like the Golden Rule that we studied in Religion class a few weeks ago!). Real person kindness is treating people with respect and dignity. I have been the recipient of many real person kindnesses from the Lower School students who do not have me as a teacher and do not know me. Although these acts may consist only of a smile or a simple hello, they make my heart glad.
People light up when you offer them any type of kindness, but especially specific and real person kindness. They are grateful. It gives you, the giver, a lot of joy. The journalists who publicize the random acts of kindness and who suggest these actions as keys to a good life can start a new trend for 2017 when they discover these additional kindnesses. At Advent, as usual, we’ll be well ahead of the curve!