Not such a long time ago, in a toll-booth not so very far away, a woman in a red Honda full of Christmas presents, about to cross the San Francisco Bay Bridge, paid the toll not only for herself but also for the next six cars.
One after another, the drivers of the next six cars were told they didn’t have to pay, as a lady in a previous car had already paid for them. It turned out the woman in the Honda had earlier read the phrase “Practice random kindness and senseless acts of beauty” written on a card stuck on a friend’s fridge, and liked the idea so much she thought she’d give it a go.
Another woman, Judy Foreman, saw the same phrase graffitied on a wall and mentioned it to her husband, Frank. Frank was a teacher and also liked the phrase, putting it on a notice in his classroom to help inspire his pupils. One of the pupil’s parents was a columnist at a local newspaper and after being told about the phrase, decided to use it in a short article in the newspaper.
After reading this article, the writer Anne Herbert was so inspired by the idea she decided to write it on a table mat in a Sausalito restaurant – and, this convoluted and unlikely sounding story is often cited as the origin of the phrase ‘random acts of kindness‘.
Unlike the origin, the idea itself is straightforward – by practicing more kindness to others in our everyday lives, we can help create ‘cycles of kindness’.
We’re probably all familiar with the idea of ‘cycles of violence’, that violence perpetrated on one person by another increases the chance that person too will too go on to commit violence against others. This is considered a factor in both armed conflict and domestic violence, there is a strong desire to ‘get even’, and if not with the one who harmed us, then someone else.
There is plenty of evidence that many other behaviors can be learned and spread the same way, including kindness.
Deliberate kindness seems to be an idea whose time has arrived, with many individuals, families, groups and communities around the world actively trying to be kinder in their everyday lives:
In the Bay Area, the Haswell family have brought together over two hundred volunteers to spread kindness at local events.
Just before Christmas a customer in a Canadian coffee shop brought a coffee for the person behind them in the line, who then went on to do likewise for the person behind then. Amazingly, the next 228 people did the same !
Instead of having a party, Syed Muzamil Hasan Zaidi decided to do 22 random acts of kindness across Islamabad, Pakistan to celebrate his 22nd birthday.
Bob, founder of the Million Acts of Kindness website is currently spending a year cycling around the perimeter of the USA, visiting schools along the route to promote kindness between pupils.
A Random Acts of Kindness Foundation has been set-up, promoting the virtue of being kind, and is now running educational workshops in Colorado schools.
If you think this sounds just a bit too soft and fluffy, there is also a lot of serious investigation ongoing into understanding and teaching kindness, amid evidence that experience of kindness has a definite positive effect on public health and pro-social behaviors.
The most interesting and amazing thing is that it boosts not only the person receiving the kindness, but also the person being kind.
Something to think about when you have the option to give way at your next road junction on the way home . . .
“Ask yourself have I been kind today ? Be kind everyday and change your world” – ANNIE LENOX
Photo by Katerha, via Flickr