Kindness #314: Valentine’s Day

The need: To brighten up Valentine’s Day for those that may not have received a Valentine!  Yes, its cliche and commercial but its also an excuse to show some kindness, which is never a bad thing in my book.

The mission: Handing out flowers at Wynyard train station, Sydney, to people making the daily commute home after work. Each Kindness Agent bought a bunch of flowers – pink and orange gebras, purple carnations and of course red roses. We also wrote our own positive or inspirational quotes to attach to each flower.

We found the perfect bustling spot standing in a line next to double escalators leading down to the station. At the front of the line Agent R held two signs reading ‘Random Act of Kindness’ and ‘Free Flowers’. Agents H, A, S, S and W handed out the flowers. I stood at the end of the line holding a sign saying ‘Happy Valentine’s Day!’

People seemed quite surprised to see what we were doing. All the women generally smiled and took the flowers with a genuine thank you. A lot of men refused, with two that took the flowers feeling the need to explain: “It’s for my wife! Not for me!” Some people on the other escalator were quite upset they were missing out, so quick thinking Agent S raced down the steps to stand and hand out flowers on the other side too.


 This woman exclaimed, “Yes! Give me one! I need a flower today!”
I think we definitely brightened up a lot of people’s Valentine’s Day and we had a huge amount of fun doing it. Thankyou so much to the Kindness Crew for your positivity and enthusiasm and just general awesomeness! 

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Undercover Kindness Mission: Positively Complimentary

“Remember the compliments you receive, forget the insults. If you succeed in doing this, tell me how.” – Everybody is Free to Wear Sunscreen, Baz Luhrman

Imagine you are sitting down with your boss for a performance review. They describe one of your positive thing you have brought to the job and then point out one area of your work that isn’t up to standard. Which piece of feedback will you be focusing on for the rest of the day? If you’re like most people, it will be the negative one.

On average, we speak about 16000 words every day. But when it comes to remembering words that were spoken to us (or that we speak to ourselves), we tend to remember the negative, critical words so much more easily than positive, kind ones. Why is this? Apparently its all down to the ‘negativity bias’ of the brain. Our minds are wired to hold onto negative information so if we want to maintain a positive outlook we need at least double the amount of positive words to counteract any negative ones. *

With that in mind, today’s undercover kindness mission** was to spread positive words all over the city of Sydney, whether spoken, written with pens and paper or scrawled in chalk on the pavement. Here’s a little bit of what happened:

Welcome to Sydney (cruise ship, Circular Quay)

The only person that can make you happy is YOU (The Rocks)

 Thankyou! Best coffee in Sydney (Bacino, North Sydney – for Sydneysiders that love their coffee and haven’t been here, do yourself a kindness and get the cappuccino with real chocolate on top! Pure deliciousness.)

I hope your day was full of positive thoughts and kind words. And if it wasn’t, you know what your mission is for tomorrow…

*If you would like to read more about the power of positive words, check this out: http://www.peggybert.com/2010/09/30/positive-and-negative-words/

**There is less than three months left before the Year of Kindness comes to an end (eek), and I am planning some of the biggest kindness missions yet. If you are in Sydney and would like to get involved in a group undercover kindness mission, or have any ideas/suggestions, check out the YOK Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Kindness-Army-aka-Year-of-Kindness/272045112862710.

The Power of a Post-It


One of my favourite children’s books is When I’m Feeling Sad by Tracey Maroney. There is a line in the book that describes sadness as something which makes the whole world seem grey and dull and droopy. A perfect explanation of how our mind can shape our reality. And a perfect description of how things looked to me (and probably many others) on September 11th. I didn’t want things to look grey on that day – I wanted to see colour and resilience and joy everywhere. I didn’t want to feel sad, either – I wanted to feel inspired and motivated to perform a beautiful act of kindness on the anniversary of the most unkind act imaginable. But there it was: everywhere I turned, there were grey buildings, grey faces, grey thoughts. Sometimes the sadness and the greyness is just too big.

And then a few days later I remembered that whatever I wanted to see in the world, I could help to create it. If I wanted to be reminded that we live in a beautiful, colourful, joyful world, the best way was to remind others. So armed with some sparkly pens and pretty post-its, my friend K and I waged a kindness campaign against all the most grey and dreary objects we could find. We put love in phone booths, smiles on tables, positivity at bus stops and happiness on park benches …

We imagined people as they sat down at the table, stepped into the booth to make a phone call or sat down to wait for a bus, each one stopping for a moment as they found a little handwritten note. We knew at least some of them would smile. And suddenly, just like that, the world seemed a lot less grey.

High Five Mission

My lastest kindness mission was the biggest one yet, and definitely the most fun. I called on some Kindness Army Recruits – Agents A, C, J, K and S – and inspired by Improv Everywhere we gave out free high fives to passers by at Central Train Station.

Central is one of Sydney’s busiest train stations and this mission took place during peak hour on a week day in one of the main tunnels leading to the platforms. Five of us stood next to one side of the tunnel holding signs reading: “We want” “To give you” “A high five” “Get ready” and the fifth person gave out the high fives. We all took turns being the high-fiver because this was by far the most fun!

Most of the commuters were coming home from work looking fairly tired and fed up, or just lost in their own little bubble and totally disconnected from everything around them. When they spotted our first sign they looked a bit confused, and then as they read the other signs many of them began to smile, take out their headphones, put away their iphones in preparation for the high five. Some of them even commented “Awesome!” “Wow, that’s great!” There were very few people who refused to give a high five, and out of the hundreds of people that took part, only two asked, “Why are you doing this?” The answer “Just because” seemed to confuse them even more. Not for money or advertising or anything?? Crazy.

I think one of the reasons it was such a successful kindness mission was because rather than approaching people trying to give them something, they read the signs and made the choice to approach us and accept what we were offering. All the Kindness Recruits had huge smiles on our faces throughout the whole mission, and so did most of the high-five recipients. It was quite amazing to experience how such a simple, silly gesture could instantly brighten up so many people’s evenings. The lovely Agent K used her beautiful photography skills to capture some of the best reactions of people:

Thankyou to the awesome Kindness Agents who helped make this mission possible, and to the recipients who jumped on board so joyfully. And to all you other lovely Kindness Recruits, go give someone a high-five “just because”!

Is This Progress?

“It’s a funny thing that medicine and science and technology have come so far, but people haven’t progressed.”

We like to think that as a species humans are forever moving forward onto bigger and better and faster and smarter things. We stand on the shoulders of giants and create iphones and clone animals and invent cars that park themselves. We are forever acquiring new information, ideas and solutions to problems we didn’t even know we had. We are progressing. Of course we are. Right?

Well, if you ask Faye, someone well into her nineties who has lived through some of the toughest times in human history, it all depends on your definition of progress. I first met Faye about a month ago for my 100th Kindness mission to visit someone in hospital who doesn’t get many visitors. It was an incredibly moving experience meeting her and hearing her stories. She was overwhelmed with emotion at the thought of someone taking the time to visit her and bring her flowers. And over the weekend I was able to track her down again after much confusion, calling around and getting lost (the hospital told me she was at the retirement home who told me she was at the hospital …) It was wonderful to see her again, to share a cup of tea and her
favourite pecan pie and talk about everything and anything. She was so grateful that I had come to visit again and I said I would love to visit her regularly if she would like me to. Faye said that since she had never had a granddaughter and I was missing my grandmother, it surely wasn’t a coincidence that we had met each other.

She is a beautiful, warm, positive person, endlessly upbeat and uncomplaining despite the many hardships she has faced and many ailments that make life difficult. And yet, on the topic of the world today (and tomorrow) she could find little to be hopeful about. She shook her head as she talked about the madness she saw on the evening news. She couldn’t help but think that humanity itself was going backwards at a rapid rate, because in general people don’t look after one another anymore and everybody seems so angry and so violent. She pointed out the irony that “medicine and science and technology have come so far, but people haven’t progressed.”

I wanted to dispute her, of course. I wanted to tell her that it’s not just the minority that are progressing, thatmost people are becoming better and more enlightened and more compassionate. But as I was trying to pull together some kind of argument for this it struck me like an avalanche: I don’t have one. What words could possibly lessen the evils of riots and dictatorships and war that are going on right now? There is nothing anyone can say or do to take away the horror and inhumanity of what goes on in our world every single minute of every single day.

I could not give her any real evidence of the goodness in the world, all I could tell her was what I believe. I believe there is just as much good in the world as bad, we just don’t hear about it because it is not
considered newsworthy. I believe that in the same heartbeat as all the death and destruction and fear and hatred there is also equal amounts of selflessness and compassion and kindness and love. But I don’t know this, I have no real evidence that is true; I only hope with my whole heart that it is. But as much as my heart had been lifted by seeing her, as I left Faye shuffling slowly back to her hospital bed to eat her tasteless hospital dinner with scenes of chaos on the muted television that could have been any number of countries I felt my heart sink. There was the avalanche of heavy realisation again – what possible goodness could even come close to counter balancing all the bad in the world?

And then there was this: today as I pulled my car into the driveway at work, a man walking by stopped and moved the garbage bins out of my way, giving a nod and a wave before continuing down the street. Later, it began to rain as I walked to the shops and I saw a lady stranded without an umbrella. I offered to share mine, to which she gratefully accepted and said she had done the same thing for someone else the day before. Then while I walked her home another man ran past us at top speed – I assumed he was running for the bus which was just about to pull away – only to race over to help a mother who was struggling to lift a pram up some stairs. He then walked over to the bus stop and stood to wait for the next one with a small smile on his face. These moments were not anywhere near as big as the catastrophes that were occuring at the exact same time in some other parts of the world. Yet they contained tiny little seeds of hope that restore some balance between those heartbreaking news stories and the innate goodness of people. I will certainly be sharing these small kindnesses with Faye next time I see her.

The World Can Only Change From Within

“Now is the time for the tribes of Sydney to gather, collaborate, be entertained and accelerate this revolution toward a more kind, conscious and sustainable world.” – Jono Fisher, Wake Up Sydney

This weekend I was lucky enough to attend a conference called Time for Renewal: The World Can Only Change From Within. It was held by Wake Up Sydney!, whose mission is to inspire a kindness revolution for ourselves, each other and the natural world. It was two days of music, inspirational speakers, meditation, and workshops focusing on how to be kinder to ourselves. It was a truly amazing experience for me to discover a whole “kindness community” I never even knew existed and to realise I really seriously need to start doing more kindnesses for myself. Here are the biggest lessons I took away from it all …

Don’t wait for a Big D.
Big Ds are the life challenges that everyone is faced with at some point – death, diagnosis, disaster, divorce, depression, disease, downturn, destruction… They are things that rock us to the very core, make us question who we are and why we are here. If we survive these Big Ds, we are forever changed. The suffering they cause breaks us open to answer the greater questions of our existence. If we had not experienced them, we would not have been forced to get to face truths about ourselves and our lives. They require us to develop new ways of being in the world. Hopefully they make us live a more grateful, more purposeful, more kindful life. But why wait for a Big D to live this way? Why not be consciously aware each day of the preciousness of life? Why not start thinking right now about what we want to achieve in our lifetime and how we want to be remembered?

Live all the seasons.
Everyone wants to be happy. But even the happiest of people experience anger, sadness, frustration, regret … Just like summertime comes and goes, so too does happiness. No one can live a summer life all the time. We must accept negative emotions for what they are and think about what we can learn from them. This lesson really hit home for me. When someone very close to me died a couple of years ago, I felt very much like I should try to remember the happy memories and not wallow in sadness because that was not what they would want. However, denying the negative feelings was not making me happy. In fact, the suppressed sadness was like a weight on my chest, making it hard to breathe, hard to sleep, hard to do anything much at all. Then a friend of mine gave me the most wonderful gift – he gave me permission to be sad. He told me sometimes really sad things happen, and you just have to let yourself be sad about it. So I did. And at first there was so much sadness I thought maybe I would never pull myself out of that well again, but after a long time of allowing myself to sit with that sadness without pushing it away I felt it gradually ebb away on its own. Trust that you are strong enough and resilient enough to get through any negative emotions and that embracing them will allow you to emerge more appreciative and more positive.

Make time for stillness.
Inner peace does not mean happiness all day every day. In practical terms it means embracing the moment regardless of the challenges it presents with an open heart and a quiet mind. In order to develop a quiet mind, we must make time for stillness in whatever form fills us up. It doesn’t have to be sitting cross-legged with eyes closed saying “ommm” (although this works great for many people) – it could be listening to beautiful music, writing in a journal, walking in nature, people-watching at a cafe… Whatever makes your mind calmer and clearer and allows you to gain perspective. Make it a priority by deciding that your own wellbeing will come before all else, because it is the foundation for success in every other aspect of life.

Realise everything you have ever done was the right thing.
Wow. Really? But what about …? And even that time …? Yes. Every decision we make takes us in a new direction and helps us to change, learn and grow. The moments we don’t want to face are the ones that offer the chance to heal like no other moment can. The past has brought you to right here and now, armed with all the lessons you need to go forward. It is not possible to change anything that has already happened, but it is very possible to change your perspective of it. Did someone stomp all over your heart, and you are left angry and resentful that you didn’t see it coming? Why not re-frame the scenario to be incredibly grateful to that person for showing their true colours and setting you free to find someone who will give you 110% like you deserve? The greatest gift you can give to the world is your very best self, and that means accepting yourself and your past completely. That way you can move forward with a peaceful mind and channel all your energy into what you are meant to contribute to the world.

Stay on your own mat.
Sometimes when attending an exercise class its hard not to look around at other people and compare your own flexibility, or speed, or strength to theirs. But really, these comparisons don’t help us to perform better and usually end up making us feel bad about ourselves because there will always be someone who has more flexibility, speed or strength than us. The same is true in life – everyone is on their own path, with their own strengths and weaknesses. So we need to stop comparing ourselves to others and keep our focus on our own mat. Forget about what everyone else is doing, and concentrate on being the best version of yourself.

Be grateful for bees.
As I said in the introduction to the previous post by gorgeous Lesh, one of the most striking moments of the whole conference for me was being told that one bee works their whole lifetime in order to produce just a quarter of a teaspoon of honey. If we want to be truly kind to ourselves, that means rediscovering the rhythms of mother nature and recognising that we are connected to all creatures. We have a responsibility to not only feed our bodies with the cleanest, most nourishing foods but also to consider whether we are taking only what we need and doing so in a truly kind and ethical way. And that leads me to …

This week’s kindness challenge: Make food choices that are kind to animals and planet earth. Check out Lesh’s guest post for lots of simple, practical ideas (and check out her blog for awesome vego recipes if you are so inclined!)

Rainy Day Smiles

Lots of very simple things become far more complicated when it’s raining. Like getting to work via public transport without being completely saturated (epic fail). Or getting a decent nights sleep without having a leaky ceiling drip on your face (epic, epic fail). But there’s one thing that is surprisingly, much easier in bad weather: being kind. The last few days in Sydney have been ridiculously rainy, windy and cold. Everyone is reluctantly trudging along through it and there is a certain atmosphere of grumpiness and ready-for-summerness, which in a weird way actually brings everyone together.

Yesterday I offered to share my umbrella with someone who was caught in the rain without one. I discovered this is one of those very rare kindnesses that people generally accept with minimum wariness and maximum gratitude. And today, I decided to try my luck with a kindness that usually has very little success in Sydney – smiling at people as they walked past. But the funny thing is, today as we struggled with umbrellas turning inside out and buses sending waves of water splashing onto us, I found that strangers in the rain also laugh and smile together far more than those in the sunshine. Read into that what you will!

This week I also babysat for my lovely friends K and J and bought a coffee for a guy who looked like his eyes might actually pop out of his head at the very idea of it. Once he had recovered, he remarked that he would make sure he was at the coffee shop at the exact same time tomorrow. Nice try! I also did the following things I usually don’t make time for: went to a dance class, said yes to every dessert I was offered (and worked very hard not to feel any guilt about it!), did a yoga/meditation class and spent several hours reading a good book with no interruptions. I didn’t realise how long it had been since I had done many of these things – they seem so little but the happiness they create is pretty big!

And in one of those wonderful twists the universe likes to organise sometimes, this weekend I am invited to a Kindness Conference (who knew there was such a thing?) and the topic is A Time For Renewal: The World Can Only Change From Within. Yes, that’s right, a whole two-days of talks and techniques from professional (and international) kindness crusaders on how and why to be kinder to yourself. So I will definitely report back to you on that one.

I hope you’re all doing well with the kindness to self challenge. And if you’re caught in the rain this week too, remember you can always create your own sunshine just by smiling!

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