I remember the first time I saw the slogan. I was living in Texas at the time, and was in New Orleans for a friend’s wedding. We were at the local hangout, and it was plastered on the wall behind the bar:
PRACTICE RANDOM KINDNESS AND SENSELESS ACTS OF BEAUTY.
I was amazed by its simplicity. I was inspired by its power. I committed it to memory.
Now, this was the 1980s. There was no internet to fuel such a concept. It was a grassroots movement, forced to travel by bumper sticker and magazine article. By word of mouth. By deed. It was slow going. If it was going to catch on, I was going to have to do my part.
I went back to work the next week and remember being excited by the concept, and sharing it with co-workers. A few thought it as silly. A few thought it weird. A few thought it was as wonderful as I did.
And so began my journey.
Over the years I’ve paid people’s tolls, bought the coffee of the driver behind me in the Starbucks window, bought groceries of the young couple with the baby in the stroller. I’ve given blankets to a homeless man, and picked up hitchhikers (I don’t do that anymore). I remember sitting on the side of the road on Christmas Eve with an old lady who had car trouble. (Before cell phones. You had to get someone to drive to the next exit to make a phone call for you.) I sprinkled flower seeds in the empty field and watched them bloom. I cleaned the statue outside my church. I carried candy around at Christmas and left it in the tube at the bank drive-up with a note.
But mostly I just tried to Be Nice. To as many people as possible. A genuine smile, a cheerful hello, a simple “How are you today?”— while making eye contact and waiting for a reply. Learning to be friendly, learning to listen, learning to care.
Talking about it seems a little strange to me. One of the points of a Random Act of Kindness has always been that it should be anonymous. (Touting them here is only for the purpose of explaining the concept.) When the recipient of one of my Acts tried to thank me, I always asked for the same thing: for them to pay it forward. To be kind, or generous, or helpful to another. I had this pyramid scheme in my head that one day, people would go about their business, constantly being nice to one another. My version of Utopia.
Twenty five years later, I’m trying to keep up the momentum.
Which brings me to 2011. A few days ago I came across a website called JustBeeGenerous.com. The concept was familiar: being anonymously generous. But this added the ability to push the movement forward using a card, explaining the act of generosity, and urging the recipient to pass it on. I was so excited!
As things now travel at the speed of Google, it took only a short time for the web site to pop up o a friend’s Facebook page and for me to learn that its creator is someone I know, the niece of a dear childhood friend of mine! I ordered my FREE cards and exchanged emails with her, and am watching the mailbox for my JustBeeGenerous gear.
Her version of the concept added the missing piece – the message of the act, and the request to keep it going. I’m so proud of this little girl I used to know, for making such a substantial difference to our world.
So, according to one calendar, Monday is Random Acts of Kindness Day. (According to another calendar it was yesterday.) Whichever day you choose to recognize, I challenge each of you to join the movement. Practice Kindness. Make the world a more beautiful place.
You never know whose life you may change. Might even be your own.