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.

The Need-To-Please Disease

Worrying what other people think of you. Needing approval and praise to feel good about yourself. Constantly saying and doing things simply because you feel obligated. Becoming anxious when someone doesn’t like you. Thinking other people’s opinions are more important than your own … These are all symptoms of the ‘need-to-please disease’.

In my not-remotely-scientific opinion, I think 90% of people suffer from this disease, often in silence, and sometimes for their whole lives. There are very few people who like to be criticised, unrespected or disliked. But does saying “yes” to everything and putting everyone else’s happiness before your own really equate to everyone liking and respecting you? Hardly.

I used to be a chronic people pleaser. I felt personally responsible for other people’s happiness and if someone was rude or nasty to me for no apparent reason I would try even harder to make them happy, assuming it had to be my fault in some way. I am definitely getting better at not taking these things personally, and accepting the only person whose happiness I control is my own. I now realise that most of the time nastiness is the nasty person’s problem and actually has nothing to do with me at all.

However, like most people I don’t think I will ever find being criticised or disliked easy to deal with. So when we are overcome with an attack of the People-Pleaser, what can we do to cure it? Psych Central has come up with a list to answer this very question, all scientific-like: 21 Tips to Stop Being a People Pleaser. I’ve adapted the list down to my top 8:

1. Realize you have a choice.
This is the most powerful ah-ha moment a people-pleaser can have. You are not obligated to say yes to everything. You have a right to say no if you do not want, or are not able, to do something.

2. Stall.
Take time to think before you agree to something. Imagine saying yes and consider how it would make you feel.

3. Set limits.
If you choose to say yes, qualify it with boundaries. Let them know if you can only help on a certain day, or with a specific part of their request.

4. Consider if you’re being manipulated.
Don’t say yes if you feel the person is taking advantage of you. Say what you want and how you feel (it’s hard, but you’ll feel better when you do, and they might even respect you more for it.)

5. Use an empathic assertion.
If you say no, let the other person know that you have listened to them carefully and empathise with their situation but simply cannot fulfil their request.

6. Don’t give a litany of excuses.
It’s hard not to feel the need to justify yourself but its not necessary to give a long drawn-out explanation for why you can’t do something.

7. Be realistic, not dramatic.
Usually the consequences of saying no are far less significant than we imagine.

8. Remember that saying no has its benefits.
You can’t be everything to everyone. It is important to have time and energy for yourself and those closest to you. Saying no to things you don’t want to do is giving yourself the opportunity to do things you truly enjoy and value.

So if I’m a recovering need-to-please addict, you’re probably thinking that a Year of Kindness is not one of the recommended twelve steps. Here’s the thing: pleasing people is a great thing. Needing to please them is not. In light of that, this weeks kindnesses have all been completely annonymous, thus making it solely about pleasing others and removing the element of praise/approval. I put coins in public telephones and expired parking metres, bought coffees for two people and then slipped away before they found out, left money scratchies for people to find on park benches, and made a conscious effort to be a super considerate driver on the road. I was worried that the “annonymous” nature of these acts would indeed make them less enjoyable, but I’m pleased to report that simply knowing these things would brighten up someone elses day made me just as happy as if they had expressed direct praise and gratitude. Kindness is not an obligation but a conscious choice, and choosing it makes me happy.

What’s Your Superpower?

“When you meet someone, you need to have a super power. If you don’t, you’re just another handshake.” – Seth Godin’s Blog, March 15, 2009

What could be better than x-ray vision?

A couple of years ago I overheard a conversation between a group of five-year-old boys that I will always keep in my pocket for days that need a little sunshine. The boys were talking about superheroes and weighing up the benefits of each of their powers (nothing knew here – I have heard grown men having the exact same debate twenty and thirty years on.) They all wished vehemently to have x-ray vision or superhuman strength or the ability to create fire out of thin air. All but one. He stated that he did not want any of those things because he had a superpower already. The other boys scoffed and scowled and sarcastically asked him what it was. He shrugged, unphased, saying he hadn’t figured it out yet, but he was “pretty sure it was going to be awesome”.

Without any help at all, children instinctively dream big and happily believe in the impossible no matter what the evidence to the contrary. I remember when I was in kindergarten a girl told the whole class that Santa wasn’t real – not a single person believed her. Our belief was so strong that her suggestion seemed completely ridiculous. Even at the tender age of five people begin to question us, to criticise our beliefs, to cast doubt on our dreams. And pretty soon we do the same. So even when there is no one telling us we’re not good enough, strong enough, smart enough, we start telling it to ourselves.

Believe in yourself like some of us believed in Santa – without question.

But in adulthood being aware of what you can uniquely contribute to the world and having complete faith in that contribution is a superpower in itself. Not so long ago I thought Year of Kindness was just silly and idealistic. Pretty much everyone I spoke to about it thought the same thing. Nice idea, sure, but not practical and definitely not something that could have any real impact in our crazy, mixed-up world. Even after I started Year of Kindness, a small part of me still thought it was naive to think I could possibly influence anyone elses actions.

So you can imagine how I felt this week when I recieved a link to a Facebook Page called 12 Days of Kindness. It is a page created by two of the Year Nine students I spoke to a few weeks ago about The Year of Kindness. They have just completed their own kindness project for 12 days, with kindnesses including bringing lollies for the teachers to share, vacuuming the house without being asked, cleaning up the playground and going vegetarian for a day. I doubt that anything could have brought a bigger smile to my face than reading their posts. Katie and Ben, you are amazing and I’m certain your generosity and thoughtfulness will bring so many positive things your way. I also think perhaps wasn’t a coincidence that this morning when I told my barista I would pay for the next person’s coffee, it turned out to be a hot chocolate for a Year Nine student whose resulting smile was the biggest I’ve seen in a long time.

Hi, my name is Cat, and I’m going to make the world a kinder place.

Chris Guillebeau says in order to have faith in yourself and value your unique contribution, you have to consider what the world would look like with you in charge. He suggests we imagine meeting someone important and introducing ourselves by saying “Hi, my name is ____ and I’m going to ____.”

You have something that you can give to the world in a way that no one else can. You have a perspective, an idea, a talent, a wish for the world that is uniquely yours. The tricky part is listening to your instincts to figure out what that is and ignoring anyone who says it’s not important, or valuable, or necessary. Even if – or especially if – that critic is yourself.

What do you love? What do you value above all else? What can you give to others? How can you change the world? If you haven’t figured out your superpower yet, you can and you will, and I’m pretty sure it’s going to be awesome.

Chocolate and Rainboots

I adore the above poem by spoken word poet Sarah Kay. The honesty, the optimism, the beautiful metaphors and striking imagery. Mostly I love the idea that although every mother wishes they could simply pass on the lessons of life and save their child all the hurt and the heartache, unfortunately each one of us must learn the hard way that “getting the wind knocked out of you is the only way to remind your lungs how much they like the taste of air”.

This kindness week was all about positive affirmations, to remind my friends and family of their beauty, strength, intelligence and value. I wrote kind messages on post-it notes and sent messages of encouragement every day. These included: “All you have to do is believe in yourself and follow your instincts, and you will end up exactly where you are meant to be” and “You are strong, kind and beautiful. Every moment is an opportunity.” As each person recieved their individual affirmation and repsonded so positively, I realised that while its true that thoughts create words create actions, sometimes it happens differently. Sometimes reading or hearing positive, kind things about yourself from someone else can actually shift your own thoughts. One post-it note that I put on the bathroom mirror at work simply said “You are beautiful”. The next day I saw that someone had added their own comment: “Thankyou for reminding me. :)”

Imagine if everyone knew beyond any doubt their own strength, beauty, compassion and innate value? And for those that didn’t know it yet, imagine if they all had cheerleaders around them to remind them every day of their unique contribution to the world until they did realise it for themselves? Life will always throw enough curve-balls to ensure the necessity of chocolate and rainboots, but maybe being our own cheerleaders can allow us to face the hurts and the heartache like the little girl Sarah describes who just keeps on singing, whose eyes keep shining, who never stops asking for more.

More Wisdom from (Online) Strangers

I must admit, that for a long time the idea of blogging held very negative connotations for me. Although I love to write and I love to read, bloggers have that reputation of being somewhat self-absorbed people who believe everyone wants to read their opinion on whether cereal or toast is the superior breakfast food. However, since becoming part of the blogging community I have found many inspiring, witty, thought-provoking, smile-inducing bloggers on amazing journeys towards happiness and self-discovery. My kindness today is to share a few of my favourite lessons from some of my favourite blogs:

1. Say what you want, without expecting to get it The Power of ‘I Want’ from Growth Journal. This is a beautiful, insightful blog about personal growth. This post impacted me a lot because one of my biggest flaws is an inability (or unwillingness) to say what I want or need, for fear of seeming selfish or entitled. This post made me realise I need to give myself permission to communicate what I want. It doesn’t necessarily mean I always expect to recieve what I want, but it can be validating and empowering simply to give it a voice.

2. Self-perception is everything Change how you see, not how you look from Drawing My Own Conclusions. I adore the hand drawn pictures that accompany the thoughtful words and affirmations in this blog. This is a gorgeous post about accepting yourself and your situation completely.

3. Asking for help is not selfish Asking for Help When You Need It from 1000 Mitzvahs. This blog is Linda’s journey to perform 1,000 mitzvahs or acts of kindness in memory of her father. Asking for help always seems like placing a burden on someone else, but this post made me realise that sometimes its actually a kind thing to do not only for yourself but for someone else who is made to feel needed and giving.

4. Find the balance between kindness to self and kindness to others – Lessons in Generosity from Smile, Kiddo. This blog is all about finding happiness in, and gratitude for, the little things in life. I could relate to this post very easily because I know all too well that giving too little can make you feel guilty and giving too much can make you feel resentful. But those emotional reactions are just your instincts trying to guide you towards finding the balance.

5. Experience all the seasons before passing judgement – The Seasons of Life from Happiness is a Lifestyle. This blog is Lexy’s personal journey to create more gratitude, inspiration and happiness in her own life. I really loved this post which encourages us to make sure we don’t judge a person or situation after seeing only one, negative side. Seeing a tree in winter does not give any indication of its beauty in spring.

6. Don’t talk change, make changeWhat If … from Resolve to Give. This blog is about Eric’s pledge to keep the giving spirit of Christmas alive all year long. It’s inspiring to read about how he is actively living out the change he wants to see in the world.

7. Give yourself more credit and remember the big picture – Doing Something Right from Bye Bye Bitters. This blog is an honest, funny, thoughtful account of Helena’s quest for happiness and self-acceptance. This post is a reminder of how we can all be our own worst critic and come up with a million ways in which we aren’t “good enough”, but really when we look at the big picture we are probably doing a lot of things right.

8. It takes time and effort to create consistent happinessLost My Way from Cure My Toxic Mind. A blog about one woman’s journey to free herself from negative thoughts. Even when we know in theory that happiness is created and not found, it takes time and dedication to learn how to put this into practice.

9. Little acts of compassion can change the world – Random Acts of Kindness: Keep it Simple from The Naked Conscience. In this blog Rachel discusses her own experiences in trying to bridge the gap between good intentions and actually doing good deeds. I love the quote by Chris Abani this post focuses on: “The world is never saved in grand messianic gestures but in the simple accumulation of gentle, soft, almost invisible acts of compassion, everyday acts of compassion.”

10. Accept nothing less than a fabulous lifeI can deal with aging but I can’t dig an ‘average’ existence from The Fab Life Project. This is an amazingly motivational blog that challenges us to question everything and develop an unwavering self-belief that we deserve to live our best life.

Survival of the Kindest?

When I think of human evolution the first thing that usually comes to mind is the phrase “survival of the fittest”, and with it the assumption that human beings are hard-wired to be selfish in order to survive. But apparently this was not Charles Darwin’s phrase or even his theory. In fact, a lesser known element of Darwin’s theory was that sympathy is the strongest human instinct and one of the main reasons we have been so successful as a species. Modern scientists are building on this idea, studying the way in which our compassion, altruism and nurturing traits can make us healthier, more resilient and more respected.*

This week I started a new job and as I began to take my kindness project in this new workplace I hoped that sympathy, and not selfishness, would prove to be the better character trait to “survive and thrive”. My first week was hectic and overwhelming. Simply figuring everything out and getting everything done meant I had little time or energy for kind acts, but I did them anyway. I bought biscuits for the staff kitchen, washed coffee cups left in the sink, made a huge effort to learn everyones names and greet them with a smile each day, always expressed my gratitude when someone helped me out in any small way and offered to help others whenever I felt able. I also made sure to be kind to myself and simply say no when I felt taking on a task would be too stressful. (There is a difference between being kind and being a push-over.)

Most importantly though, I made an effort to listen and understand where people where coming from. Almost everyone was extremely welcoming and friendly, and for those that were not I tried to listen even harder. Rather than judging them or reacting in anger, I tried to read between the lines, find the reasons behind their behaviour and be compassionate even when they hadn’t done the same for me. I know many consider it a weakness not to “assert” yourself when someone is rude, and in some cases that is true, but a lot of the time it only creates more issues and it certainly doesn’t make us happier or less stressed.

I think most people find it incredibly difficult to continue being negative and unkind when you are persistently and genuinely kind and positive towards them. And once a group of people have all started to be kind, sympathetic and compassionate towards one another, there is no doubt that they can achieve far more than they could with an “every man for himself” mind-set.

* University of California, Berkeley (2009, December 9). Social scientists build case for ‘survival of the kindest’. ScienceDaily. Retrieved June 12, 2011, from http://www.sciencedaily.com­ /releases/2009/12/091208155309.htm

A Recipe for Positivity

There are certain questions that have puzzled humankind since the dawn of time. Why is the time of day when the traffic moves most slowly called rush hour? Who stole the cookie from the cookie jar? And how, pray tell, do they get those ‘stay off the grass’ signs onto the grass? And then there are the really, really tricky questions like one I was asked recently when I spoke with a group of year 9 students about Year of Kindness: “How do you stay positive?”

Skyping with the students was very interesting. I know their teacher through the Lucca Leadership course that actually spurred me into action on the kindness project. She was keen for me to chat to them about the project and they had a lot of really thoughtful questions for me that made me reflect on the whole process and my reasons behind undertaking this crazy journey. Who was my biggest inspiration for starting the project? (My grandma – the most loving, giving and kindest person I’ve ever known.) What am I going to do after Year of Kindness? (I honestly have no idea – never been a big “planner”.) Is anyone ever ungrateful for a kindness? (Yes, sometimes.) Do I ever question what I’m doing and feel like giving up? (Yes, all the time.) So, how do I stay positive? (Ummm…) It was good fun, although we had a few technological issues and I was also reminded that I’m far better at organising my thoughts into written form than spoken! And it was especially fantastic to hear about the kind things they are doing themselves. Listening to their experiences made me feel like maybe a Kindness Revolution really is possible.

Since my last post I have signed the petition to ban live animal export.
I bought a bunch of flowers for my Dad (he loves flowers and says its not fair they are only given to women. I think most women would attest they don’t get given enough flowers either!) I also picked up rubbish on my block for World Environment Day and bought a copy of The Big Issue.

But it was my chat with the lovely, articulate, curious students that really got me thinking this week. Why am I doing this kindness project if not to create more positivity in my own life and the lives of others? Happiness and positivity have become recurring themes in the Year of Kindness, and I certainly feel I am a lot closer to more consistent positivity and happiness since I started this project. However, as recent posts have shown, I still sometimes take big detours to Negativetown. When it comes right down to it the question of how to stay positive has never, and probably will never, have an easy answer. But next time someone asks me for a recipe for positivity I’m going to defer them to the beautiful Optimists Creed written by Christian D. Larson all the way back in 1912:

Promise Yourself

To be so strong that nothing can disturb your peace of mind.

To talk health, happiness, and prosperity to every person you meet.

To make all your friends feel that there is something worthwhile in them.

To look at the sunny side of everything and make your optimism come true.

To think only of the best, to work only for the best and to expect only the best.

To be just as enthusiastic about the success of others as you are about your own.

To forget the mistakes of the past and press on to the greater achievements of the future.

To wear a cheerful expression at all times and give a smile to every living creature you meet.

To give so much time to improving yourself that you have no time to criticize others.

To be too large for worry, too noble for anger, too strong for fear, and too happy to permit the presence of trouble.

To think well of yourself and to proclaim this fact to the world, not in loud words, but in great deeds.

To live in the faith that the whole world is on your side, so long as you are true to the best that is in you.

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