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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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.

Love the Rain (and Other Wisdom from Strangers)

Over the last few days little pearls of wisdom have been spilling forth from strangers in the most random of places, and each one has inspired a different act of kindness.

1. Thoughts create words create reality. On Saturday at the beginning of a gym class my instructor told us she was having a terrible morning, she was a magnet for things going wrong and all she needed now was for the “stupid microphone” not to work. Having also attended the previous class (sometimes I’m a little crazy that way), I knew the microphone was working perfectly well. But sure enough, she spent ten minutes flipping switches before exclaiming “It’s not working, as usual.” She then spent the rest of the class in turn shouting instructions and complaining about having to shout. She was so frustrated that she kept messing up the choreography. All day I thought about how easy it is to be your own worst enemy and not even realise it. I decided to make a conscious effort to be kinder to myself over the weekend. I did things that make me feel calm and happy – catching up with friends, exercising, meditating, eating well, reading, cooking… I also bought all my fruit and vegetables from a local organic market – to my great amusement the Englishman who was running the market told me I was “doing a jolly good thing for the environment but more importantly a jolly good thing for your health”.

2. Your life should love you. On Monday while I was in a shop, a fairly successful-looking woman was asked what she did for work. She laughed and gave the most amazing response I’ve ever heard: “I do whatever work loves me.” When asked what she meant, she listed an assortment of different jobs which she claimed all had one common element – they made her feel appreciated, valued, talented and loved. The lady went on to say that this was also true of people she had in her life – “How could anyone ever expect to be happy if they choose to spend time with people or work that doesn’t love them?” Of course we all know it is true, but as friend recently told me quite matter-of-factly, “Sometimes I think if I let go of every person who let me down, there wouldn’t be many people left.” I can empathise with this so strongly. But I realise more and more each day that it’s better to be surrounded by a few people that truly love you than many who don’t. Following on from this lesson I decided to make someone else feel loved and I wrote a gratitude card to my amazing friend R. She is constantly inspiring me, making me consider things from a different perspective and encouraging me to have unwavering faith in myself and the universe.

3. Love the rain. Today while waiting for my daily caffeine fix, I noticed a little girl (around five) sitting at the window of the cafe watching the rain outside. All around her us adults were complaining to each other about the cold, wet weather. This little girl, however, had a different take on things, bouncing excitedly in her seat as the raindrops fell heavier and heavier, and saying quietly: “Hello, rain! I love you. Thankyou for making the flowers grow.” If only we could maintain children’s natural ability to find such joy in things. This little girl inspired my ‘piece de resistance’ for this week (if not month): I went around to every unit on my floor (25 in total) and left a flower and a note on the doorstep reading “A random act of kindness to brighten a gloomy day.” Strange how nervous this made me – I did it so hastily you would think I was robbing the places. Maybe my last flower incident has traumatised me. I didn’t want to get “caught”; didn’t want to be judged; didn’t want to answer suspicious and ungrateful questions. I just wanted to imagine that each person came home after a stressful, rainy day to find a lovely bright flower on their doorstep that made them smile and wonder.

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.

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.