Image: Charlie Mackesy
‘No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.’
I regularly watch an Australian public affairs program called the 7:30 Report. Most of the stories leave me feeling upset, angered or discouraged about the world we live in.
But every Friday the last story is a heartening one. A story of generosity, hope, courage, kindness, and, despite the sadness which precedes it, this short story all on its own reinvigorates my optimism.
Much of the hurt and gloom that exists in our world stems from one lonely place: selfishness.
Leaders who’ll stop at nothing to gain control, companies who forgo humanity in the pursuit of success, governments who refuse positive change, majorities who threaten minorities, and groups and individuals who spread hate.
However, selfishness also appears in much smaller doses, through commonplace acts, ones that are much easier to ignore.
Every day we witness these simple acts of selfishness. Most of them are not disruptive or disturbing to our day, but they are there nonetheless.
Perhaps it’s the young girl on the train who doesn’t give her seat to the elderly man. Or the man who discards his cigarette on the footpath rather than the bin.
And the world we live in often promotes selfish behaviour.
Every election year, in countries around the world, most political parties sell their ideas by promoting the benefits they will have on individuals, not the country or the world at large.
And then many people decide their vote based entirely on the personal benefits they will experience. But what about the minorities who will suffer because of these changes? Why aren’t we thinking of them and including those negative repercussions in our decision making?
This behaviour is visible in every corner of society and let’s face it, it’s simply a human flaw.
Perhaps we’re repeatedly buying from fashion labels with a terrible ethical history simply because the price looks good and therefore we can buy more.
Or maybe we grab a coffee every morning and receive it in another single-use cup which will end up in landfill.
But it’s not all doom and gloom, so don’t lose heart.
There are thousands of stories about people witnessing or receiving random acts of kindness and World Kindness Day, which is Saturday
13th November, is devoted to recognising these and encouraging even more.
There are the heroic acts of kindness like the health care workers who've been caring for COVID-19 patients throughout the pandemic; emergency service workers facing trauma at the scene of another car accident; every day people risking their own lives to help others during a disaster.
And there are the simple acts of good we witness, as well. Perhaps it’s the young girl on the train who does give her seat to the elderly man. Or the man who not only places his cigarette in the bin, but picks up another that's been discarded on the ground.
The idea of eliminating unkindness and healing the world might be a naive dream. But dreams are still worth having, are they not, no matter their unlikeliness? If we didn’t dream, we would never achieve and if we didn’t achieve where would we be now?
Kindness doesn’t need to be an act worthy of the Nobel Peace Prize.
It can be something as simple as a smile to a stranger, asking after others and listening to what they say, hugging someone who is hurting and meaning it, gifting a present that shows thought, or giving to a charity dedicated to helping.
Such basic acts of kindness can mean so much more than what appears on the surface.
Your smile may touch a person who is hurting, your hug may restore someone's hope or your donation may put food on a family table.
And offering kindness will always leave us in a better place about ourselves; who we are.
Do you remember the episode on Friends where Phoebe is determined to find an act of kindness that is pure selflessness and benefits only the person receiving it, rather than her as well? Spoiler alert, she can’t find one!
But does that matter? If our act of good improves our place as well as the person we’re reaching out to, that’s great news. Double the benefits.
Realistically, we won’t see a world operating on pure kindness in our lifetime, in no lifetime. But we each have the ability to make changes, no matter how small, that will contribute to something better.
If simply watching that story of generosity, hope, courage, and kindness on a Friday night can return me to a better place, imagine what it does for those receiving it?
Happy World Kindness Day. Let’s share the love.
And please share your own stories of kindness, both when you’ve given kindness and when you’ve received it.