I have recently been witnessing in my own life how powerful an act of kindness can be and how much fun it can be. I take my garbage cans out to the curb every Sunday night because the trash collectors come early on Monday morning. For the past few months when I go out to the curb on Monday to put the cans back alongside my house, they are not there. Someone has mysteriously and very stealthily moved them back by the side of the house where they are stored. Now, I have heard about people in the drive-through line paying for someone else’s coffee at Starbucks, or the fare at a toll booth, but never have I heard of acts of “trash can” kindness! I suspect it is one of my neighbors and I must admit it’s really got my attention. What his or her motivation is I don’t know, but I am interpreting it as a generous and selfless act of kindness. There is something very empowering about extending kindness to others, especially when it can be done anonymously.
This simple act of kindness has me thinking a lot lately about how we as human beings coexist together, not just as neighbors, but as passengers on this ever-shrinking “spaceship called planet earth” as referred to by Buckminster Fuller. Our differences are so vast in so many ways. Between cultural values and traditions, nationalities, religions, politics, and so on, we can feel very isolated at times. Kindness can be the bridge that connects us because it is something to which every human being on the planet can relate. An act of kindness is easily understood and can supersede any language, religious or cultural gap. In that regard, kindness can be thought of a universal language we all can speak--with our actions.
The ancient philosopher Philo of Alexandria (20 AD - 50 AD) said, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” It seems some things in the human realm never change. Times have never been tougher than they are right now for the majority of people, and the “normal” tendency in tough times may be to withdraw from others because we are so consumed by our own fears, concerns and problems. However, when we withdraw, that’s when a sense of isolation comes flooding in. And, yet, if we think about it, a simple act of kindness to another can instantly reconnect them to life in ways we may never know. Just think about that. Your act of kindness could be the bridge that another needs at that moment to get them through the day. And, irrespective of the simplicity of the act you may think you are extending to others, universally speaking, there's no such thing as a small act of kindness. Every act of kindness creates a ripple effect which reaches out far beyond your act. That’s the empowering thing about kindness--when we receive kindness we are naturally inspired to extend it to others.
Perhaps Ella Wheeler Wilcox was right. The world needs more kindness, but with whom and where does it begin? Perhaps by practicing the art of being kind you might just be the one to change the world. It could be while standing in line at the grocery store by inviting the person behind you to go ahead of you. It might be by holding a door open for someone. It could be as simple as a welcoming smile...or, if you really want to see your neighbor go a bit batty, try the stealth “trash can kindness” maneuver.
Any way you slice it, a deeper experience of kindness is what we all inherently desire. We are hardwired for kindness because it is in our spiritual DNA to treat one another with reverence and loving kindness. We just have to be mindful of the spiritual beings we really are and the acts of kindness will follow naturally with grace and ease, not because we should be kind, but because we can. To this end I close with one of my favorite quotes by the Dalai Lama: “This is my simple religion. There is no need for temples; no need for complicated philosophy. Our own brain, our own heart is our temple; the philosophy is kindness.”
I rather like that philosophy. How about you?
Dennis Merritt Jones