February 17th is Random Acts of Kindness Day, and I think it’s fair to say we are all a little starved for it. In this time of increased tension and social mistrust, kindness is more important than ever, and it is an essential part of everyday leadership. Treating people with kindness is a way of telling them that we value them. When we walk by a stranger and look up into their eyes and smile and say “good morning,” we are also saying to them “I see you. You matter.” Letting a car into our lane, opening a door for someone, complimenting someone on their mask or fun hair color, giving someone the benefit of the doubt. These are all small things, but they demonstrate that our first priority isn’t always ourselves and that we take the time to notice and appreciate others.
Sometimes, we underestimate the impact of random acts of kindness. Think about the reverse: random acts of meanness. We all know the sting when someone honks at us with impatience or walks by without bothering to acknowledge our existence. These moments distance us from each other, make us feel small, and often reinforce dynamics related to race, class, gender or privilege. Random acts of kindness have the reverse effects.
In preparation for Random Acts of Kindness Day, I asked my students and friends to share some examples. Here is a sampling.
- This is a big stretch and only possible to do if you live near a grocery store or have a car, but I know my mom’s friend helps her 70 year old neighbor get her groceries every other Tuesday.
- Think about the people in your life that you appreciate and write them thank you cards, showing your love for them.
- Bake cookies for a friend.
- My mom drives one of her older coworkers home so she doesn’t have to take the bus. And, in exchange, the woman sometimes gives my mom fruit for me, because she knows I love it.
- My random act is ongoing. I feel so much for those who are homeless, so I alway have “care pouches” on hand in the front seat of my car. There are some very basic comforts, like clean socks, that make a difference. Soaps and small shampoos (hotel bottle size), and a clearly visible $1 bill guarantees it’s welcome.
- Let others know how much you appreciate them with something as simple as a text.
- Compliment someone we see in our day (grocery store, on a walk, etc.) Authentically though. That’s the key. A color someone wears, a smile, the way someone parallel parks. All of it. Any of it. Make someone smile with your love of who they are, just being themselves in the world.
Kindness is like any other habit. We have to practice it. And the more we practice it, the more it becomes part of who we are. In this way, kindness is similar to confidence. With confidence, we often use the phrase “Fake it till you make it,” because we know that action precedes belief. In other words, by acting confidently we teach ourselves to feel confident. The same is true with kindness. When we practice acting kindly and ignoring the instinct to be distant or judgmental or mean, kindness blossoms inside of us and becomes second nature.
In the name of health and safety we have kept our distance from others, even from those we love the most, for nearly a year. We are hidden behind masks, obscuring our smiles and muffling our greetings. We avoid places of contact with people, and in doing so we miss out on moments of connection. Shelter-in-place makes random acts of kindness – these tiny, sweet affirmations of our shared humanity – harder to come by, but certainly not impossible.