A Culture of Kindness

by Ilinap on December 19, 2010


Its other monikers might be Grace. Benevolence. Selflessness. Friendliness. Compassion.

We teach Kindness to our children through lectures and rants and reactive examples that stem from plugging up a playdate gone bad. There are tomes about how to talk to your children about gentleness and respect. Teaching kindness tends to involve an awful lot of talking and not that much doing. As a mom, I find myself talking about kindness more than actually demonstrating it. Kindness is often more a concept than a true living example.

At the moment I’m clad in super soft gray jersey pajamas flecked in white snowflakes, gold and red sparkly Christmas socks, and gray fleece jacket. My hair is styled in the iconic finger-in-a-light-socket morning coif. As I take a break from typing to sip some strong black coffee, I am reminded of random acts of kindness I have experienced first hand.

I am drinking from a coffee mug hand painted by someone named Nina. I don’t know Nina. But I know Pam, the neighbor who once left a little bundled package on my front stoop. In it were two coffee mugs, one painted to look exactly like each of our two cats. She left a little note saying, “I saw these and thought of Casey and Capote and just had to buy them for you.” She left us these mugs for no particular reason. Here it is eight years later, and I am warmed by her kindness more than the steaming java that fills my cup.

On another occasion I was sitting in a hard plastic seat at CVS awaiting my turn at the Minute Clinic. Deal was perched patiently on my lap. A man of about 50 had just driven his elderly neighbor to be seen for a wheezy cough. He too was waiting patiently, chatting up everyone in a neighborly manner. Deal popped up to go ogle some toy cars. The gentleman smiled and remarked how he loved cars as a kid and still does. He asked if he might buy my son a toy car. I was floored and said, “Of course.” I walked with the man to introduce him to Deal. He kneeled down to see eye to eye with Deal, and explained that his mommy said it was OK if he bought him a car of his choice. Deal clung to my leg silently. The man commented something to the effect that we had raised him right to not talk to strangers and accepts gifts from them. Instead of pressuring Deal, the kind man simply went to the register, handed over a five dollar bill, pointed our way, smiled, and sat back down. Neal chose a blue and white sports car. He gripped it tightly and scooted over to the man to say Thank You in an ever so sweet voice. The man’s neighbor then stepped out of the exam room. He took her arm, tipped his hat, and smiled with such childlike joy that he made me forget why we were even at Minute Clinic. Now months later Deal randomly says, “Remember the time that nice man bought me a car?” And he smiles, feeling the warmth of someone’s kindness.

There are times in spring and summer that a bag of fresh vegetables are on my porch. A neighbor has left the bounty of his garden with no note and no expectations. Just a simple gesture.

We have a family tradition to go to the movies every Christmas Day. Last year when we arrived for the noon show the cashier told us that our tickets were free. Someone had come to the theater right when it opened and left a bundle of cash to pay for tickets until the money ran out. That lesson has stuck with Bird and Deal, making them joyous at hitting the jackpot and wondrous that someone would be so generous.

During one of worst ice storms that left us without power for over a week (meaning no heat!), a neighbor donned snow boots and a Holden Caulfieldesque hat and pushed a wheelbarrow full of split logs through the neighborhood, offering up firewood to stoke the hearths of all our homes.

Kindness comes in many colors. Helping someone stow a bag in the overheard compartment (a personal favorite since I am only five feet tall). Passing a supremo parking spot to let the car behind you have it. Writing a hand written thank you note to a teacher, barista, mailman, or anyone who makes you smile a little brighter and skip a little higher. Kindness must not cost lots of money and doesn’t have to take oodles of time. Random acts of kindness are spontaneous, unorchestrated tiny moments that demonstrate pure generosity of spirit with no reciprocity required, but is nonetheless naturally repaid in spades by the Universe.

One of the best things I get to do as a blogger is participate in the Yahoo! Motherboard along with some pretty amazing and talented writers. It is truly a gift to be a part of this community.
One of the things Yahoo! is supporting this year is the How Good Grows Through Ripples of Kindness program. Yahoo! has given me $100 to do random acts of kindness in the hopes of brightening people’s holiday season. I hope you’ll be inspired to join me. My hope is that you take this to heart throughout the year, not just during the holidays.

Kindness doesn’t have a season

Here’s a taste of how I used the money:

  • Paid for groceries for the woman behind me at Trader Joe’s. She was rather shaken up about the gesture and didn’t understand why I would want to do that. After a little cajoling she gave in and accepted with a smile. I think I inspired her to commit her own random act of kindness.
  • Paid for groceries for a worker at my sons’ school who happened to be behind me in line.
  • Left $20 at Goodwill to pay for the next people in line. I hung out in the aisles to see the glow of the workers and the family buying kitchen basics who benefited from the unexpected surprise.
  • Bought dog food for a local animal shelter.
  • Bought books for everyone in the children’s department of a used book store.
  • Worked with my son’s teacher to buy Christmas presents for a few kids in his class who would otherwise have no Christmas gifts.
  • I have a few bills left to buy fleece blankets for a homeless shelter downtown.

I’ve engaged Bird and Deal in this little Kindness project too. Deal has decided to use his money to bring McDonald’s smoothies to the police officers in our downtown precinct (We happen to see many of them enjoying coffee and smoothies at the McDonald’s near their school.) Bird wants to leave his money with the cashier at a Dollar Store or grocery store to pay for the next people in line. Mac Daddy is recreating the simple joy of free movie tickets on Christmas Day. I’m hoping that these little acts, though inconsequential alone but mountainous in aggregate, help my sons learn about kindness though actions, not words.

So tell me, what will you do to grow a culture of kindness in your family?