When I first heard about 1000 Voices of Compassion and the idea that hundreds of people were planning to go online on February 20th to share blog posts, articles, videos, or photos about compassion and kindness, I was immediately in.
When we think of changing the world, we often think of Brangelina-size donations to a third-world country, or superstar athletes flying a sick child and his family across the country to a big game. But those gestures, however newsworthy and generous, are not the only way to effect positive change.
Kindness is like a pebble we toss into a pond. When you throw a small pebble into a body of water, it causes outgoing ripples on the surface. Every act of compassion or kindness (or anger and hostility), no matter how small, ripples out to people we may never even meet, in ways we may never imagine. Kindness, generosity, and compassion aren’t solely defined by giving a million dollars towards a new hospital wing or months away from our families to rebuild a city after a hurricane. We can start with not yelling obscenities at the guy who swooped our storefront parking spot at the mall.
My mother used to call this childhood lesson in cause-and-effect “Kicking the cat.” A guy cuts Hubs off on the freeway while driving home from work. Hubs is pissed, so when he gets home, he snaps at his wife. She’s immediately defensive and hurt, so she yells at the kids to turn off the damn TV. Little Susie is confused and starts wailing, and young Johnny, feeling unfairly disciplined, kicks Snowball, the family cat. Ripple effect in action.
Next door, Hubs is coming home and sees that the driver in the next lane wants to move over, so he slows down and lets him in. The driver, surprised and pleased, waves at Hubs with a smile. Hubs feel good about himself for being such a nice guy, so when he gets home, he gives his wife a unexpected kiss. Delighted, she sends the kids to watch their favorite Disney movie, while she and Daddy have a make-out session in the kitchen. The kids happily snuggle up on the couch, with Snowball stretched out on the floor, purring contentedly. Boom. Ripple effect.
Years ago, I attended a self-help, 80’s-style weekend retreat that challenged us to do one nice thing every day for a month and record the results. (FYI, this was harder than it sounds.) The instructors gave us some ideas, and we each added our own as the month went by. I discovered my old list in a storage box, and added a few new suggestions:
1. Give a genuine compliment to three people.
2. If you walk by a car and notice an expired meter, put a quarter in it.
3. Let the other car take the better parking space.
4. Hold the door open for the person behind you.
5. Each time you buy a new item of clothing, give an old one away.
6. Say Please.
7. Say Thank you.
8. Leave a really good tip when the service has been excellent.
9. During hot summer months, put cold soft drinks out for your mail carrier or garbage men.
10. Having lunch with a friend? Agree to turn off your cell phones and actually talk to each other.
11. Donate your stuff in storage, rather than saving it “just in case” you need it someday.
12. Learn the names of people you see every day. Then use them.
13. If you see someone sitting alone at an event, stop and talk to them.
14. Call your Mom.
15. If you see someone who’s obviously lost, stop and offer directions.
16. Buy the coffee or pay the bridge toll for the person behind you.
17. When you get great customer service, tell the manager.
18. Let someone with only a few items go ahead of you in the checkout line.
19. Say Good morning to the person next to you in the elevator.
20. Say I forgive you to someone who has wronged you. Then never bring it up again.
21. Offer change when the person in front of you at the register comes up short.
22. If you know an influential person who can help someone’s career, introduce them.
23. Can’t afford to cut a check for a charity? Donate your talents.
24. Be the first one to say I’m sorry. Even if you were right.
25. Give someone a smile. Yours may be the only one they get that day.
26. Look retail salespeople and restaurant servers in the eye when you’re talking to them. Nobody likes to feel invisible.
27. Donate your old eyeglasses or cell phone so someone else can use them.
28. Relay a compliment you heard to the person it was about.
29. If you find yourself starting a sentence with “I don’t mean to be judgmental/critical/mean, but…,” then don’t be. Just stop talking.
30. Spend 1/2 hour with a senior in a nursing home. Sixty percent of them will never have a visitor during their stay.
31. Buy dessert for the person at the next table on your way out.
32. Send someone a handwritten Thank You note, instead of a text or email.
There are dozens of other ways to brighten someone’s day. They’ll present themselves if you’re looking. You may or may not ever find out how your words or your actions rippled out to the person they next interacted with, but who knows? Besides making at least one person feel good, you might have just saved a cat.