Aussies Value Kindness Over Attractiveness

If you have turned on the television in Australia recently, besides being bombarded with second-by-second accounts of royal wedding preparations you may have come across another feel-good story. Channel 10’s 7pm Project have teamed up with Reader’s Digest Australia (RDA) to share stories of kindness from around the nation in a project called The Power of Good. According to a recent survey from the magazine, Australian’s value “how a person treats others” (98%) far more than their outlook on life (89%), intelligence (59%) and appearance (28%). Who knew? Personally, I hope it isn’t always an either/or kind of situation …

Sue Carney, the Editor in Chief of the magazine, had this to say: “I love the whole concept of ‘the power of good’  … Often ‘niceness’ is dismissed as untrendy or unexciting, but I really hope The Power of Good shows that’s simply not true – kindness is powerful and it’s inspiring. And in these times of bad world news and disasters, it’s a strong theme that reflects what Australians truly value.”

To read more warm-and-fuzzy stories of Aussies helping Aussies, just click on the image above.

Find a Penny

 

Days 20-23: About a year ago my beautiful friend R sent me a care package from America with a penny encased in a little bag and the words “Find a penny pick it up, all day long you’ll have good luck.” I still have it on my wall. While we don’t have pennies in Austalia anymore, like many Americanisms this saying is well-known here. As with kindness, money is something that everyone would like more of, and finding it is probably considered good luck in any culture. When I found some money this week, it provided a very spontaneous opportunity for discovering whether it is possible to be kind to others while taking full advantage of luck for yourself.

Anzac Day is a public holiday in Australia, a day when we remember all the Australian and New Zealand soldiers that have served and died in war. I decided a simple way to be kind on Anzac Day would be to donate some money to Legacy, an organisation caring for families of deceased war veterans, which I did. However, for many Australians the best way to remember the diggers is having a beer (or ten) in their honour and playing two-up. I’m pretty sure they would approve. Two-up is a traditional game in which you bet on whether two coins (normally pennies, funnily enough) will be flipped heads or tails. My friends and I take part in this crazy ritual every year, and though I never win any money it is a lot of fun. This particular Anzac Day while I was waiting at the bar in a very busy pub, the man beside me dropped some money. I think he was a few beers past remembering his own name, let alone noticing he was $10 short, but I tapped him on the shoulder and returned the money, to his absolute amazement. Perhaps some people would have considered it lucky, or good karma, that they had found the money, and been ‘kind’ to themselves by simply pocketing it since he would never be any the wiser. But make of this what you will: almost immediately afterwards I headed back out to the two-up ring and preceded to win almost three times as much money as I had just returned to the man at the bar. I didn’t even think of it at the time, but later I wondered if I had kept that man’s money for myself, would I have still won?

Over the last few days I also cleaned out my closet and donated a big bag of clothes to St Vincent de Paul (a charity helping people overcome poverty and disadvantage). And I bought a coffee for the lady standing in line behind me, who was appreciative but not overly surprised, as though random acts of kindness made perfect sense within her positive world-perspective. She commented that she would certainly have to pay it forward to someone else, and then finally asked me why I wanted to do something nice (normally the first question people ask, repeatedly.) Before I could answer the barista said: “That’s just what she does. Every single day she is kind.” I don’t know why exactly, but as I walked away with my coffee my smile couldn’t have been much wider.

Embracing My Inner Hippie

 

“You can’t be suspicious of a tree, or accuse a bird or squirrel of subversion or challenge the ideology of a violet.” ~ Hal Borland

Days 17-19: There is something incredibly appealing to me about the hippie movement of the 1960s. Its not just about the music or the clothes but more importantly the peace-and-love ideology in a time of chaos and upheaval all over the world. Over the last few days, I have been happily embracing my innner hippie, slowing life down to cook with love and get reacquainted with Mother Nature.

On Thursday I had a hot cross bun baking day, making three different types (traditional, mocha and white chocolate with cranberries). I then played Easter Bunny and made deliveries to very appreciative friends and family.  This process took up almost the whole day and it would certainly have been far quicker and easier to go out and buy the buns. However, I think it precisely because we live in a culture obsessed with convenience that there is something wonderfully nurturing – for both cook and recipient -about slow food cooked with patience and love.

Friday was Earth Day and in acknowledgement of this I decided to be kind to the enviroment any way I could. I used green bags at the supermarket, took my own eco cup to the coffee shop, did not turn on lights unless absolutely necessary, read a book instead of watching television and even put a timer on to ensure I didn’t spend more than five minutes in the shower. I also made sure I took the time to appreciate the lovely little offerings Mother Earth presented:

Going for a bush walk early in the morning I noticed the crisp Autumn air and crunchiness of newly-fallen leaves beneath my feet. I was reminded how lucky I am to live in a city surrounded by beautiful little pockets of nature. In the middle of the day was thankful for sunshine (as I always am!) and t-shirt level warmth outside of Summertime. Later I took a few minutes to appreciate a stunning pale pink and burnt orange sunset bursting through gathering storm clouds. And then, as I was walking home through a clear starry night – the clouds had gone to visit some other part of the world – I recieved a message from a friend telling me to look at the moon. And it was gorgeous; a mammoth full circle resting lazily on the horizon.

All this nature loving made me think about something else I had been procrastinating about for quite a while. So on Saturday I signed up for Bushcare, a community volunteer program helping to regenerate and preserve bushland. They have an under-35s group in my local area that meets up once a month to work on a specific project. Though this is a very small stone in a very large pond of enviromental issues, it feels good to have committed myself to positive action on a regular basis. Sometimes the problems we have created for our earth can seem overwhelming and impossible to fix, particularly when there are still so many people who refuse to even acknowledge there is a problem, let alone do anything about it. But just like spreading kindness to people, I think its important to take little steps towards being kinder to the environment, in any way we can.

Living in a world of ‘peace-and-love’ is in many ways an absurd and impossible notion, and yet I think it will always be something we strive for. Just as any Star Wars fan will tell you, there will always be a balance of good and evil. Cooking slow food does not stop fast food, being kind does not stop rudeness, turning off one light does not stop global warming, and placing flowers in guns doesn’t stop wars. But each of these things provides a powerfully positive counterpoint to the other, reminding us that while we may not have the power to take away the bad in the world, we most certainly can contribute to the good.

Say Yes

Days 13-16: There is an idea that luck is something that finds us. That when good things happen – meeting an amazing partner, landing a dream job, having great friends – it’s just plain lucky. There is another perspective that you make your own luck through hard work and applying yourself. There is probably an element of truth to each of these theories. However, today I begun to consider whether one of the most important factors in luck is simply being open to accepting it when it comes our way. But more on that later, first to my other recent kindnesses which were all revolving around food in some form:

On Sunday I cooked a nice meal for my Mum, did the washing up, made her a cup of tea and watched a political documentary with her (without complaining or requesting a channel change once!) It’s the little things, afterall …

Continuing on the cooking theme, on Monday I made hot cross buns from scratch with the two-year-old I nanny for. He adores cooking, although amusingly he is generally so excited by the idea of it that he can barely stand still long enough to actually cook anything. I have just recently entered into the big bad baking world and I must say in hindsight hot cross buns are possibly one of the most ambitious things to make. And one of the slowest, taking over two hours! Nevertheless, the time and effort only made it seem extra kind and the end result was quite delicious.

Tuesday I shouted lunch for my gorgeous cousin O. Also, upon hearing that she was looking for a good book to read on her upcoming trip overseas, I bought her a pre-loved copy of one of my all-time favourite novels ‘The Time Traveller’s Wife’ by Audrey Niffenegger. Please note, in my opinion passing on a good book is not a voluntary kindness, but an absolute duty. As those who know me well can testify, I never ignore an opportunity to spread the literary love.

Then today I decided it was time to cheer up a stranger’s day. Extending on my positive affirmation post-it notes from a few weeks ago, I added some instant scratchies* to make it a really happy surprise for whoever happened to find it. I stuck positive post-its along with a scratchy in public places such as an elevator and a parking pay station. Interestingly, as I left I noticed a lady leaving the elevator empty-handed. Had she failed to see the scratchy or simply chosen not to take it? I imagined myself in the elevator, seeing the scratchie. Of course I would take it … wouldn’t I? It made me think about the idea of luck itself. Maybe there was really something to the idea that we make our own luck, simply by being open to the opportunities all around us and grabbing them with both hands. I thought of the lady who had run away when I tried to give her the flowers. Although I had been upset by her reaction, it was really her who was missing out. Her reaction of distrust and fear, her desire to ensure she was not inconvenienced in any way, meant that she denied herself of a positive experience. Perhaps flowers weren’t the only thing she was missing out on in life. In order to invite more positivity into the world, I’m starting to get that it’s important to be open to recieving as well as giving. Take the flowers, scratch the scratchie. When luck asks you a question, say yes.

* NB: Apologies to my American readers for not translating, apparently its just called a “lottery ticket” for you guys!

Today You Are You

 

Days 9 – 12: There are moments in life where you are able to take a step back and see yourself as others might see you. Sometimes this is a wonderfully self-affirming experience as you realise you haven’t been giving yourself enough credit. Sometimes it is a painfully confronting experience as you begin to wonder whether you have been giving yourself too much. And on rare occassions, its both.

This week has been a strange chapter in my kindness journey. After giving blood on Tuesday I was still feeling very light-headed and hazy the next few days. I decided to be kind to myself and make my tasks relatively easy: on Wednesday I decided to say only positive things for the whole day. On Thursday at lunch my friend K and I sat next to a lady who chimed in to our conversation to offer us some motherly advice. I decided to annonymously pay for her coffee – which the waiter was incredibly confused by. He promptly told me she had already paid for it herself and jokingly said, “You can’t be nice around here, sorry.” I bought her a cookie instead. I’ve no idea what the lady would have thought upon recieving it, but at least I proved  you can be nice anywhere if you really put your mind to it!  

Friday I attended my uncle’s birthday party and my small kindness was to keep an eye out for people sitting on their own and go over and talk to them. It felt a little strange at first but it’s never nice to feel out of place and I certainly would appreciate someone making the effort if I were in that situation.

Saturday I decided it was time I challenged myself to do a slightly bigger kindness. I was nervous as I went a bought a bunch of flowers and stood outside the supermarket to wait for the right recipient to walk by. I deliberated for a long time – It would have to be a lady. That one? No, some one older. That one? No, someone who wasn’t carrying too much shopping. I needed to stop procrastinating. A middle-aged lady approached, looking like she wasn’t having the best morning and I stepped forward. “I know this is a little bit strange, but I’d like to give you these flowers …” She was taken aback, confused, then apologetic: she was going on a long drive today and so couldn’t take them for practical reasons. I was disappointed. Did I really have to start again? Of course I did, and I had to hurry up or I’d miss my bus. I would just give them to the next lady I saw and that would be that. I only managed to get out a polite “Excuse me?” before she began to speed up, avoiding eye-contact. Of all the reactions, I honestly never expected that. Did I look scary? Or like someone begging for money? Did she think I was trying to sell her something? How did she know I wasn’t just going to ask for directions? Trying to shake it off, walked straight up to the next lady without analysing and offered her the flowers. She was very sorry but she couldn’t take them because she had two cats who would try to eat them. I felt an overwhelming sense of defeat. The first lady walked back past and said, “Still trying?” My bus came and went. As people hurried past me I had a kind of out-of-body experience, looking down on myself in dismay, a lone girl standing in the street trying to give away a stupid bunch of flowers that nobody wanted. And for what? What on earth was I thinking? Had I actually gone mad? What the hell was I trying to achieve anyway?   

Then the lady with the cats walked back over. She asked why I was giving away the flowers, what motivated me to do a whole year of kindness? She said it was such a lovely idea; if only more people thought the same way; that really, when you thought about it, we could solve all the world’s problems with kindness. I felt the little positive Pollyanna within me slowly awakening again. She said that she would sit with me and help me find someone to give the flowers to. We spoke about her cats, her children and grandchildren, the beauty of flowers, and many other things. I was ready to try again. This lady was perfectly receptive as I approached and instantly overjoyed: “Oh, really? That’s so sweet. Let me give you a kiss and a hug!”  She was in town visiting her daughter who wasn’t well, and had been having a very stressful time. I was so relieved. I had (eventually) managed to brighten up someone’s day! After feeling like a complete lunatic, I now felt like I was doing something that was perhaps even more worthwhile than I realised. It reminded me that one of the hardest things in life is putting yourself out there to be judged and possibly rejected – whether it be actively living the change you want to see in the world, going for a job interview or giving your heart to someone. Sometimes it’s hard to follow your instincts when it would seemingly be so much easier (and more logical) to give up completely. But whether you’re holding a bunch of flowers, your resume, or your heart, you have to have faith that whatever you are offering to the world, eventually someone will walk by who accepts and appreciates it completely and joyfully, and there really is no better feeling.

The International Currency of Kindness

Day 7: Sometimes – like when I’m watching the nightly news – it seems as if the world couldn’t be any more disjointed. We often make fun of the “feel good puppies-and-kittens” stories at the end of the news which aren’t really newsworthy at all, but secretly its a welcome relief after the overwhelming negativity that came before. And yet despite what the mainstream news often tells us, chaos and violence are not the only commonalities of the world. There are positive stories everywhere, and there are people that feel they are equally newsworthy, with sites such as  http://goodnewsdaily.com/ and http://www.dailygood.org/ becoming increasingly popular.

Today my kind task was to pick up rubbish wherever I went. Walking along a road I frequent several times a week, I was surprised I hadn’t noticed just how much rubbish was lurking in bushes, in the gutter, on the path. I was again reminded that you really don’t notice things – whether good or bad – until you start looking for them. We can’t ignore the bad in the world, but it’s important to keep our eyes open to the good.

Day 8: According to the World Health Organisation, only one in 30 eligible Australians currently donate blood (www.who.int). It’s one of those things that we all know we should do and yet somehow never quite get around to. Perhaps because there isn’t much motivation if we haven’t experienced a loved one needing blood, or needing it ourselves. I knew that many people needed blood donations for various different reasons, but I was amazed to learn today that my single blood donation could save three lives. It left me very weak and woozy for the rest of the day, but on the grand scale of things that is a fairly small price to pay. And who knew you got a free muffin and milkshake, as well as bonus kindness points? Priceless.

Lessons from the White Queen

“Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.” ~ William Arthur Ward

Day 4: It’s all too easy to take things for granted in our lives; to get wrapped up in what we don’t have or where we would rather be instead of focusing on being thankful for all that we have in the here and now. Personally, the thing I am most grateful for in my life is the amazing people I am lucky enough to share it with. My 4th act of kindness was to write a thankyou card to my beautiful friend L, who is like a little ray of sunshine: positive, joyful, considerate, honest and loyal. I’m sure that those closest to me know that I am grateful for them, but I have to say there is something really lovely about taking the time to put into words just how awesome I think they really are.

Day 5: Carrying on the giving to friends, my 5th act of kindness was to babysit for my fantastic friend A and his wife who definitely deserved a night off, especially considering it was also his birthday this week. It was the most stress-free babysitting experience I’ve ever had and I think it was much appreciated by both parents. At this point, being kind to friends certainly feels far more natural than being kind to strangers but I’m hoping eventually to be equally comfortable with both.

 

Day 6: My acts of kindness towards strangers do tend to make me feel slightly insane (saying hello to people, buying coffee for randoms …), and today was no different. Inspired by the website operationbeautiful.com, I snuck around putting post-it notes with positive affirmations where lots of people would see them. For example, in a public toilet: “You are beautiful. Never forget it” and in a pay phone: “Be yourself. No one else knows how.” I got a lot of funny looks from people wondering what I was doing and I must admit, at first I felt a little disappointed – it just isn’t the same when you can’t experience people’s responses. But then I began to imagine all the different ways the notes might brighten someone’s day. (Maybe someone was working up the courage to make an important phone call and that note was the little nudge they needed, maybe that conversation will change their life …) My happy imaginings were probably far more fanciful than anything that actually took place but I’m grateful that this project is allowing me to embrace my idealistic tendencies. I happily take a leaf out of the book of the White Queen in Alice in Wonderland (by C.S. Lewis) who makes it a habit to imagine “more than six impossible things before breakfast”.

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