Planning acts of kindness

“Random acts of kindness.”

The idea is that when we perform random acts of good, we bring happiness to the recipient. And, who could deny the good feeling we get when we help someone, offer an encouraging word, or pay a genuine compliment?

istock_000004633733xsmallLoosely defined, a random act of kindness is a selfless act to assist or cheer up an individual for no reason other than to make him or her smile or be happier. Behind this, in part, is the hope that the surprised individual will practice a random act, too–“paying it forward” as the book and movie tell us.

The theory is good.

But I’d like to propose that while practicing random acts of kindness is good, planning them for those we know is even better. After all, we know our circle of friends and their needs. What greater gift could we give than an act of kindness meant just for them?

Doing good is one of the ways we find our own happiness and satisfaction. Such actions are one of the noblest ways to grow increasingly happy.

Some people may believe that random kindness allows a certain anonymity and that they can be more secretive with their good deeds. Some may believe that if they get “credit” for an act, it’s less impactful. Some believe that you can never be truly altruistic because performing the act brings personal pleasure.

But, does any of that really matter?

All those arguments are about us. Isn’t it really about them and helping them be successful? And, helping others be successful can take many forms. Kindness is one of them.

Doing good for others does not deplete our stock of it and leave us half full. Rather, it fills us up with even more. Funny how that works.

So, perform acts of kindness randomly, if you like. It’s good. But planned can be even better.

Question: Who do you know, right now, who could benefit from one planned act of kindness on your part? How about just an encouraging word? A thank you? Maybe just a call. Go ahead. Pick up the phone.

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Six points is just about everything

Patrick is your usual high school senior. He studies. He plays basketball. He’s a favored son of parents, Pat and Perry.

And he has Downs syndrome.

patrick11That small fact doesn’t stop Patrick from running drills with the team throughout the year or playing with them during summer practices. And even though he’s never played in a real game, when you hear his teammates talk, you can feel the respect they have for Patrick, his toughness and his dedication to the team.

But, senior night, as it’s known, would put Patrick in a special place made possible by his friend and team standout, Sam Thompson. It was Sam who gave up his starting position so that Patrick could play in his only actual game, the last his high school would play that year.

“If I can help him have a special experience tonight, I’ll do whatever it takes,” Sam said, unconcerned that he was giving up his final starting role on the team.

And even though the center of attention that night would be Patrick, the decision of his coach and the support of his fellow players would enable this young man’s dream to become real.

The game began. Patrick missed his first shot, but a minute or so later made a clean shot from 20 feet out. Swish. Three points.

Near the end of the fourth quarter, fans started chanting Patrick’s name, demanding that he get another chance to play. With just a few minutes left in the game, Patrick took his place on the court. And just as the buzzer sounded, Patrick landed another three pointer. Swish.

Final score: Greely High School: 61 — Gray New Glouster: 43.

Players surrounded the new star, lifted him in the air and carried him off the court as the school’s new hero. But to 18-year-old Patrick, the real heroes were likely his team members who gave up just a little to give him so much.

The way it’s supposed to be

The water landing of US Airways Flight 1549 and the rescue of all 155 aboard is truly a tremendous feat, if not-as some say-a miracle. The quick thinking of the pilot and co-pilot, the decisive actions of flight attendants, the passengers’ relative calm in the midst of chaos, and the flawless, timely rescues by passing boats and helicopters made for a tragedy that could have been, but wasn’t.

_45384654_-18Who among us didn’t feel a sense of awe as we took in television or radio accounts of The Miracle on the Hudson, as it’s been dubbed?

But, what we should also recognize is that all that surrounded The Miracle was “the way it’s meant to happen.” Well, except for the birds in the engines, that is.

Training.

Teamwork.

Quick thinking.

Decisiveness.

Bravery.

The system worked! Think about that. That’s the way it is supposed to be.

Who did not go home that day thinking, “I’m honored to have done my part. I was in the right place at the right time.”

It’s reasonable to conclude that passengers would heap mounds of praise on the crew and that both passengers and crew would heap mounds of praise on the rescuers. Each would probably say, “I was just doing my job.”

In fact, one of the rescuers, a scuba diver, described the training that equipped him to work in freezing Hudson River water that is totally black just inches beneath the surface. When submerged, they couldn’t see anything, so they worked by feel.

When a reporter asked if he felt fear when he jumped from the hovering helicopter, he paused, then said, “No, there wasn’t time for that. There were just people to be rescued from the freezing water.”

There are many lessons from this, but one stood out to me today while at the drive through window of a local fast food restaurant, the one with yellow arches outside. Oftentimes, such places don’t attract the most enthusiastic workers. For many, it’s just a job and a way to pay the bills which often gets played out as disinterest and rudeness.

I couldn’t see the woman who took my order, but her voice came clearly and professionally through the speaker. After carefully repeating my order and giving me the total, she concluded with a confident, “Thank you for your order, sir. Please pull forward at your convenience.”

I handed her the money when I reached the window. She was a 50s-something African American woman with graying hair pulled tightly away from her face. I inquired if she was the person who took my order. “Yes,” she said, “why do
you ask?”

I looked her in the eyes and said, “Because I have never been treated so professionally here. You have lots to teach others about customer service.”

As I said it, I thought about the people whose actions lead to the safe outcome of Flight 1549. Someone was there to thank them–even though they were just “doing their jobs” just like this woman.

Her eyes sparkled. The smile on her face was real. “You just made my day,” she said.

As I pulled away I couldn’t help but think, “That, too, is the way it’s supposed to be.”

This is just too cool!

Kevin Bacon is an actor, musician and creator of the popular Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon concept that says each of us is connected to any other person in the world through six or fewer relationships—because, as he says, “It’s a small world.”

picture-4And there’s a wonderful new twist that caught the attention of many, many people over the holidays: www.SixDegrees.org. Bacon started the site in January 2007 with the nonprofit Network for Good in which peeps like you and me can donate money to this organization on behalf of a friend. The trick is that your friend receives a “Good Card” via e- or snail-mail that he or she can, in turn, donate to the non-profit organization of choice. Is that cool or what?

picture-5As of the last look, more than $2.5 million in Good Cards have been issued.

Here’s an example of what one person did with a Good Card:

“I always like the part of our classes in which we ask people what they’d do if they could have their perfect job. You know, I always talk about helping orphaned children in Africa whose parents have died from the AIDS epidemic there.

“So when I got my Good Card in my email, I immediately knew who I wanted to receive the $50: my adopted daughter in Zambia! The website let me go to World Vision International, donate the money, and designate it to her! It felt sooooo good to give the extra money to her and her family.

“Together we are making a difference in a young girl’s life, an orphan of the AIDS epidemic. Not only her…we are also helping her grandmother and two siblings.

“Thank you, my friend!

“Praying that your new year is the best yet!”

What a wonderful example of taking our dream job and making it real today. Here’s a post that’s related to this one.

How can I help you?

Ever wonder why some people are just so darned helpful? I was talking to a colleague yesterday and I learned something that helped me understand the question.

istock_000005066727xsmallKris (name changed to protect the innocent/guilty) is an organized, unassuming woman who works in a different department and who will do just about whatever it takes to meet your needs. At least that’s been my experience. She’s got the tough exterior of a former New York City gal and the presence of mind to keep her cool when things heat up.

I had called to ask a few technical questions on some IT matters. The conversation ended along the lines of, “You know, I always appreciate your help, Kris, and the way you think problems through.”

Then she said, “Well, you and your team are always such nice customers and so appreciative. I just love working with you.” Hmmm. I’d never thought that we were nice customers—probably because I hadn’t thought about it one way or another.

It doesn’t take a rocket surgeon, of course, to conclude that “nice customers” get better treatment than those who aren’t. That’s how all the members of our team try to be—not consciously, I’m sure; it’s just the way they are. The question, then, might be: Does Kris give us better treatment because we are nice folks?

Knowing Kris, I’d say, “No, she’s just that way.”

But it does raise a good point: If we try to be good customers by being courteous and appreciative, we help the people who are trying to help us. It’s a sort of “helping others be successful” approach that has some great, positive consequences.

The same holds true in the normal work setting, too. Working with people who are serious about their work, dedicated and thoughtful but who go about their work in a pleasant, fun-loving manner are always easier to be around than those who are down, dour and in the dumps.

That goes to the “happiness rubbing off” flavor in the previous blog.

Your song for world peace

Sitting quietly and almost hidden in composer and conductor John Williams’ immense body of orchestral work is a gentle, but insistent, almost five minute composition called “Song for World Peace.” It’s part of his “American Journey” album.

The idea that earth’s seven billion inhabitants could live together without strife is a concept almost too large to comprehend.

But, Williams’ musical development of “Song for World Peace” is a metaphor, of sorts, of how peace might come to our planet. French horns introduce a simple theme that is echoed by flutes, later by clarinets, then strings and the entire orchestra. But, slowly, the theme dies out and falters.

Williams then begins a new, but complementary, theme. Again, it begins somewhat tentatively, but it grows much richer and more confident, bringing an affirmation that peace may, in fact, be possible.

World peace would imply that individuals are at peace, too, meaning that the tiny moments of impatience and the bigger moments of personal anger would not exist either. The sometimes strong desire to honk at the slow driver and harsh words would yield to love and compassion. It is a tall order.


Which raises the question: Would I be ready for world peace if it should break out? And, even more important, how am I waging peace in my life? What are my individual peace efforts?

Philanthropist Kathryn Wasserman Davis provides her own practical example. “I want to use my 100th birthday to help young people launch some immediate initiatives,” she said, “—things that they can do during the summer of 2007—that will bring new thinking to the prospects of peace in the world” You can learn about her work here. It was such a successful effort that 100 Projects for Peace continues in 2008.

“My many years have taught me that there will always be conflict. It’s part of human nature,” Davis wrote. “But I’ll remind you that love, kindness, and support are also part of human nature. My challenge to you is to bring about a mindset of preparing for peace, instead of preparing for war.”

How do you prepare for peace?

When as good as it gets isn’t good enough

Actor Jack Nicholson is often cast as quirky movie characters and his take on Melvin Udall in the 1997 film “As Good As It Gets” is no exception. Melvin is the supremely cranky, obsessive-compulsive writer who finds his life totally uprooted when his gay neighbor/artist is hospitalized and he’s left to canine-sit the man’s small dog. To make matters worse, the only coffee shop waitress who can tolerate him must leave work to care for her sick son, making it impossible for Melvin to eat breakfast. At some point, we are left to conclude that this may be as good as it gets for him.

While Melvin might dream of a major, sweeping change transforming his peculiar life, it’s hard to imagine that happening.

Truth is, for Melvin—and you and me—life is more frequently a series of incremental changes, not major transformations. And that has its plusses and minuses.

On the up side, small changes are easier to handle and keep things on an even keel. On the down side, by only making small changes in our lives we may become complacent and accept the status quo—a sort of “as good as it gets mindset” that keeps us from taking leaps of faith.

Here’s a question for you: If you could do anything in the world, without restrictions of any kind such as income or education or experience, what would it be? No limitations at all. What would it be? It’s a sort of, “If I could relive my entire life—wipe the slate clean, if you will—this is who I really want to be and what I really want to do” question.

Maybe you want to be an author, or design golf courses, or help kids in Africa stricken with HIV-AIDS. Or perhaps your other calling is to be a minister, to own your own coffee shop, or to become a famous chef.

Here’s a second question: What’s the essence of your first answer? What’s behind it? What would that mean to you?

For example, if your goal is to move to Africa and provide help to children suffering from AIDS, what’s behind that? Perhaps that would mean educating parents, to relieve suffering and reduce the number of HIV cases each year. In other words, you want to make a small difference in the lives of people who are largely forgotten in the mainstream.

Or, if you want to write a book, what would it be about? How would that make a difference to others? Why is that important?

Now, for most of us, pulling up our job-stakes and embracing a life changing transformation is not practical or doable. Lots of things stand in the way. But if your dream is big and would really energize you, is there a way to give yourself—and the world—its gift?

One last question: What can you do today to bring even a small part of your ultimate dream into your life? Not the whole thing, but a part.

If becoming a chef is your big dream, what about taking a cooking class? Or preparing a special meal for your family? Or volunteering at a local food kitchen?

If you want to help with AIDS in Africa, is there a way to contribute money to those who are doing such work today?

Or, if you really want to write a book, is there a way you can share your writing skills in a slightly different way? For example, there are literally hundreds of online, part time writing jobs on the internet. Many of them pay quite well.

The case can be made that we should always pursue our dreams and maximize the way we use our talents. No question about that. But a single step toward that dream is better than no step at all.

One last thought…it’s amazing that when we share our talents with others, everyone benefits.

Tell us how you are pursuing your dreams in the comments section.