“How do we change the world? One random act of kindness at a time”
It has come to my attention that the 17th of February is ‘Random Acts of Kindness Day’. I had never heard of it, and it sounded rather like the creation of florists who wish to off load excess foliage from Valentine’s Day. Apparently it has been around for some time, it started in Denver, Colorado in 1995 and has gradually spread.
A quick ‘Google’ will tell you more information than you really need but it all seems a positive and harmless reason to observe (yet another) day just because it is there on the calendar and seemingly vacant, just waiting for a name.
The web site is awash with useful information about kindness and why it is good for us. Apparently engaging in acts of kindness activates the brain to release endorphins, helping to reduce anxiety, make you feel calmer and more in control, and improve your overall mental health.
Acting kindly all the time protects our immune system and heart health. Further, kindness really is contagious. When someone is kind to us, it makes us more likely to show kindness to others, causing a continuous ripple effect. We even have a ‘compassion muscle’ which we can build up like weight training and develop our compassion to respond to the suffering of others and our desire to help. ‘Random’ is used to describe a pattern that cannot be predicted and is unexpected. So now we know.
Thinking about this I mused about what the reverse might be. What would it feel like to have an ‘Unkindness Day’? Which made me realise just how much being kind is generally universal; it just helps life along for us all. Such sweet thoughts were squashed as I was reminded of Richard Dawkin’s selfish gene which suggests kindness is a form of altruism that is ultimately self-serving – which takes all the joy out of it.
It was St Augustine of Hippo, I believe, who said “Be kind for everyone is fighting a great battle.” That seems to put some purpose into being kind. We are kind to each other along the way motivated by shared experience and compassion. This is not just me being ‘nice’.
In the film Paying it Forward (2000) a young boy has an intriguing assignment at school. Think of something to change the world and put it into action. He comes up with doing acts of kindness to three new people. When they thank him or try to repay, he asks them to simply ‘pay it forward’, not pay it back. This they do and the film follows through the ‘ripple’ effect of the kindness. The film is a typical Hollywood weepy, but the point is powerful. The boy’s actions change the life of his alcoholic mother, emotionally scarred teacher and many strangers.
I remember paying the petrol charge for the man ahead of me in the queue – it was £10 which says something about how tight money must had been for him. He insisted on having my address and paying me back. I wished I had said what the young boy said in the film, “Pay it forward”. That would have been the better outcome. It seems true that we have to learn how to be kind and become kinder the more we do it. Like love I suppose.
The Scripture tells us in Ephesians 4:32 – “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”
It is interesting that the scripture links kindness with forgiveness. With a bit of thought we can see how they are linked. Unforgiveness tightens us up and shuts us down. It ebbs the joy out of life and eats away at us. Forgiveness is the one petition in the Lord’s Prayer that has a condition attached. ‘Forgive us… as we forgive. This liberates us to become aware of others with compassionate regard and enjoy the simple pleasure of giving and receiving kindness. Perhaps we do not need a special day – or maybe we do to remind us how simple kindness both given and received can make our day feel so much better. Happy Random Kindness Day!
Rev Anne Dunlop