The news is depressing. A school shooting. Another #MeToo. A horrible story about abusers hiding behind the label of homeschooling – it’s all just awful. We all want to do something to fix it – do something – anything – to make it better. You know what? We can.
It’s the worst feeling in the world to feel helpless. I’m too familiar with this feeling. From being a mom watching my kid in pain, to dealing with my own health issues. Feeling helpless is traumatizing. It’s just bad. We humans search for ways to fix things, to control things. Let’s be blunt and honest here – we can’t fix anything but ourselves.
Even though that sounds like it won’t do anything at all, don’t discount it. If we all try to fix ourselves – if even some of us try to fix ourselves – then we’re off to a good start. Social norms can change, and societal expectations can improve. We don’t have to be selfish and rude – we can choose to be different.
Someone I highly respect and value her opinion told me this once about race relations: “Be a decent person” to fix our society’s problems. I’m white. She’s black. She’s one of the wisest people I know, and her advice is deceptively simple. And effective. If we went at every problem with the intent to be decent rather than be right, we could move mountains.
It’s all well and good to say “fix ourselves,” but how can we actually do that? Lots of ways, actually, but I’m focusing on one particular one because it’s easy for my kids to participate. Little acts of kindness. Nothing earthshaking, nothing that requires a trip to a far-away country, and nothing that even requires a lot of money. Too often we throw money at problems and hope they’ll go away – sometimes a problem needs love and elbow grease to make any headway.
Here are a few ways to start actively being decent – doing something nice just because. I promise you, once you start making this a part of your life you’ll be surprised how fulfilling it can be for yourself, let alone others. Doing things for others actually helps us too.
1. Pay for the car behind you in the drive-through.
If you’re prepared ahead of time, have a little note for the cashier to hand the person. This isn’t like buying someone a drink at a bar: it’s not doing it for personal gain, but rather just to be nice. One of our local radio stations sets up a specific day every month to promote this and people call in choked with tears to tell how much that little gesture meant to them. It means “someone cares.” It means “I’m not alone.” It matters.
2. Write a little note
Write a little note with something nice in it and leave it behind for the next person who sits there. Nothing crazy or intense, just a little “hey, I’m someone who cares and I hope you’re having a great day” kind of thing. Make sure you label it as “A note for you” or similar so people don’t think you’re just littering.
3. Buy a little gift card for someone you see having a bad day
I will never forget the day in a fast food place when I had taken the kids out for dinner because Mr. Genius was out for a business trip. The kids were being themselves, and my patience level was worn thin and tired. I was doing my best to deal with tantrums and kid craziness and I was completely ignoring the scene around me. I didn’t know it, but one of the older couples down the aisle was watching us interact while they ate their dinner. On their way out, the lady stopped by our table and told me that I was doing such a great job and my kids were amazing, and handed me a little gift card to buy them a treat. I wanted to sob, because it was so thoughtful and kind just at the right moment.
4. Help a mom or dad having a bad day
Along the lines of #3, the next time you see a parent really struggling, try doing something nice instead of judging them. One time in the checkout lane at the grocery store the Destroyer was strapped into the cart having a pure tantrum and the other 2 kids were being bouncing-off-the-wall brats. I was trying to pay – trying to just get OUT of the store so that no one else had to listen to my kids.
I literally couldn’t pay because the older 2 kids kept running away from me and I couldn’t ignore them and let them go. The gentleman in front of us stopped after picking up his bags and engaged my kids. He talked to them, he tolerated the childish babble and attention seeking behaviors just long enough for me to finish, then he said goodbye and headed out. I thanked him. I wanted to hug him.
Hold the door for the mom pushing a stroller. Smile and talk to the kiddo having a fit while his dad tries to get groceries. Block the little one from running out into the parking lot. It’s simple. It costs you nothing. And it means everything to that parent.
5. Practice abandoned art
This one is my new focus. I’m often so intent on my own kids and their safety that I’m unable to interact with anyone. I can’t help another parent if it means abandoning my responsibilities and putting my kids in danger. I can’t even hold a door for you if my little one is dashing off into the store without me. So this is my personal answer.
It’s not a new idea – creating something and then leaving it for others to find. Our area alone has 2-3 different “rock” groups where people paint rocks and leave them for others to find. Most groups like this have very specific rules about how to participate, and I find those rules stifling. I want people to pick up my art, take it home, and enjoy it – without feeling like they have to reciprocate. I want it to brighten their day.
Lately I’ve been on an origami kick – there’s a Japanese saying about origami cranes that I internalized: anyone who folds 1,000 origami cranes will be granted a wish. I hold no hopes of a wish, but it’s peaceful for me. Mindless, exacting, and beautiful. So I’m sharing them. I’ll leave them on tables at the mall, I handed them out to the kids in the play area, and I randomly leave little ones at doctor’s offices and libraries.
I’m creating – in my spare time (ha!) – little mobiles with beads and cranes. Something you can hang, that will make you smile. I’ll wrap them up with a little note and leave them where ever we go. Something little, something special, something to brighten their day.
If you’re interested, the abandoned art movement has a Facebook group where members post art they’ve found and art they’ve abandoned. No buying or selling is allowed – only giving. It’s a lovely breath of fresh air.
Our society feels disconnected from each other. We feel alone, misunderstood, disliked, even. The only way to change that is for all of us to start reaching out. To be decent. It doesn’t have to be a life’s calling or a passion, it just needs to be a habit. A way of life. Help others, because it’s the right thing to do. Help others, because it makes you a better person. Every tiny act of kindness matters, even if no one sees it.
Let’s do something nice, people – let’s change the world with one little act of kindness at a time.