Shock and Awe Kindness (Inspired by Kermit the Frog)

Dear Kindness Recruits,

In preparation for Wednesday’s 100 Days of Kindness mission, I must tell you something. Sometimes being kind is a bit like being green – it’s not always easy and people often give you very strange looks. But this only proves even more just how much the Kindness Revolution is a cause worth fighting for. We live in a crazy, mixed-up world and it’s up to kindness crusaders like us to remind people that it’s not all gloom and doom – that the world is also beautiful and meaningful and kindful. (Yes, sometimes I make up words, just go with it.)

As for me, my shock and awe campaign has already begun. I have upheld my end of the bargain and continued to really challenge myself with this week’s kindnesses. However, I am also discovering that the best, most rewarding kindnesses are not created but found. My advice to you would be to let your instincts guide you to find opportunities for kindness, because they truly are everywhere when you start looking.

On my 94th day of Kindness my mission presented itself at a shopping centre. I noticed a lady sitting on a bench. Not just any lady: possibly the loneliest lady I’ve ever seen. It wasn’t just her strange assortment of clothes or half-dyed hair or the fact that she was sitting by herself staring at nothing in particular or the way everyone gave her a wide berth as if she were about to spontaneously combust. It was something in her eyes, something totally defeated and lost and broken. I wasn’t sure what I was going to say, or even if she would respond to me when I did speak, but something told me I had to try.

I sat down next to her on the bench and noticed her outlandish shoes. Before I could chicken out I quickly heard myself saying, “Those are very interesting shoes.” There was a long pause, she slowly turned to look at me, obviously taken by surprise, and said, “Yes.” I thought perhaps that was the end of that. I couldn’t think how to go on from there. But then she began to talk. First about how she could only afford that one pair of shoes, then about every other aspect of her life, all of which were equally heartbreaking. I could feel people staring at us, knowing we must have seemed a very odd pairing (me still in my smart clothes from work, and her in the only clothes she owned). That made me annoyed to start with – she’s a human being like everyone else – but then I felt glad they were looking, as it meant I was making a strong point. I gave her advice when she asked for it, but mostly I just listened and tried to make her feel heard and understood. After about an hour the lady seemed to have grown tired of talking and we just sat for a little while. Eventually she turned to me and said, “Thankyou for listening to me. No one has paid any interest in me for such a long time. And just talking to you has made me think that there’s a chance things might turn out all right in the end.” Listening and acknowledging sure is a powerful thing.

On day 95 I faced one of my biggest kindness challenges: giving out flowers. I was viewing it as a major challenge purely from my previous experience – just thinking about that made my stomach turn itself in knots. And so I decided that rather than wait until Wednesday, I would dive right in and do it straight away. But this time I really thought things through to make sure it had every chance of being enjoyable. I recruited my awesome friend A to come along for moral support (and also because if people can see you have a friend who doesn’t think you’re crazy, then they’re less likely to think you’re crazy also.) Instead of handing out one bunch of flowers to one person, I handed out a whole lot of individual flowers to different people, thus taking some of the pressure off. I also generally approached people who were standing still or sitting down (at bus stops or in the park), not those who were walking by in a rush. And finally I tweaked the exact wording of my explanation to ensure that I got the words “free flower” and “kindness project” out in the first twenty seconds before the other person even spoke, because if I didn’t every single person’s instinctive reaction was to say no.

A happy flower recipient!

In the end, out of about twenty people, only three refused the flowers. Strange to think anyone would refuse to accept a little kindness in their life, but I did not take this personally, only thought it was their loss and moved on. It certainly helped to have A by my side reminding me what a positive thing I was doing, regardless of how people reacted. Of those that said yes, some of their responses were quite incredible – as A said, it “warms the cockles” and “brings a tear to the eye”. One lady informed us it was her birthday that day, another said she had been given the exact same flowers from her family during a really happy time and couldn’t describe how meaningful it was to her to recieve one again, and another lady said she was a big believer in random acts of kindness, that it took real bravery to do it for a whole year and that she was sure it would get much easier as I went along.

And it already is. On days 96 and 97 I bought a coffee for people at two new cafes in the middle of peak coffee hour in the centre of the city (so even the barista looked at me like I was Kermit the Frog). And it was only a single little baby butterfly that fluttered around in my stomach – rather than a whole butterfly family – as I explained to the baristas and the businessmen what I was doing and why. What did I care if they thought I was nuts, I don’t even work in the city so I am never going to see them again. And who knows, maybe later it will sink in somehow and they will see for themselves that random kindness is meaningful and important. And on day 98 I bought a sandwich for a homeless man who was not particularly grateful (making it clear he would prefer money instead), and I did not take that personally either. Just like when I was talking to the lonely lady, people stared at us in confusion as we spoke, and once again I was glad for it. If the man didn’t appreciate the kindness, at least people walking by might realise that “normal” people like “us” don’t have to walk by homeless people as if they don’t exist. Finally, somehow, I am starting to detach myself from the outcome of the kindnesses, and simply enjoy the journey, wherever it may lead me. Mission accomplished.

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.

For the love of coffee

 

Day 2: It’s pretty tough to beat the simple pleasure of a good cup of coffee to kick-start your morning. Except, perhaps, if the coffee is free. When I paid for a guy’s coffee yesterday I think it may have been the highlight not just of his day but maybe even his week. At first he was completely bemused and I had to explain several times what I was doing and why (There is no catch … Yes, I really do want to pay for it … Yes, really…) He then spent a few moments muttering “Wow” to himself, then smiled widely and exclaimed, “Well, I’ve never been to this coffee shop before, but I reckon I might be back every morning from now on!” So it seems it was a kind deed for the barista, too.

Day 3: Today my kind act was volunteering with the Red Cross Young Parent’s Program, which I have been doing for about six weeks now. The kids are absolutely gorgeous, as are my fellow volunteers. I had been thinking about volunteering for a children’s charity for about a year before I finally stopped procrastinating and decided to apply for a few places that looked interesting. Red Cross was the first one I tried and it’s so fulfilling and so much fun I can’t remember why I didn’t start sooner! Having said that, I’d like to try volunteering for a few other charities during this project, but I will probably have to procrastinate for just a little while first…