Random acts of kindness

Last week was Random Acts of Kindness Day – who knew? While I am a big believer in random acts of kindness, I have rather mixed feelings about attributing a special day to something that should really be part of everyday life. A bit like Mother’s Day or Valentine’s Day that also condensate a feeling or attitude into one single day. Unless every day is, one way or another, Mother’s Day, Valentine’s Day or Random Act of Kindness Day, and unless we chose to show how we feel on all or any given days of the year, the designation is utterly pointless.

A few random acts of kindness I have received, in equally random order:

  • Waiting in the entrance of a mom-and-pop store for a particular heavy June downpour in Tokyo to stop so that I could walk back to my office in Ginza. The shop owner came out to give me one of those see-through umbrellas and refused to take either money or my offer to return the umbrella afterwards. I still have the umbrella.
  • Buying flowers for a hospital visit, a woman I had never seen before in my life walked up to me, handed me a single flower and just said: “That’s for you. It’s been paid for” and walked out, leaving me utterly flabbergasted.
  • Driving through the tollbooth at the Golden Gate bridge in San Francisco and being told by the attendant that the stranger in the car in front of me had already paid my fee.
  • Had a throat tickle and started coughing at Loblaw’s supermarket, when one of the employees came over, asking whether I wanted some water. I refused, thinking it was over, but the attentive young man rushed over to the deli anyway and fetched me large glass of fresh water. Not a minute too early, as the tickle had morphed into an eye-watering, air-gasping cough.
  • The baker (working double-shifts to cover for a hospitalized colleague all week) of Filbert’s bakery in Lancaster who personally delivered a loaf of fresh bread to my (a first-time customer’s) door step at 6pm, because she hadn’t had it ready when I had come to pick it up that afternoon, refusing to take immediate payment with the words: “Pay me next time. It’s karma.”

(photo courtesy of Filbert’s Bakery website)

I think of random acts of kindness as the crown jewel of civil behaviour. Call me a dinosaur, but in the age of multi tasking, 24-7 business and egocentric mindfulness civility often falls by the wayside. That’s a tragedy, because civility, in my opinion, is one of the main pillars of civilization. I believe, like one of the characters in Steven Galloway’s The Cellist of Sarajevo, that “civilization isn’t a thing that you build and then, there it is, you have it forever. It needs to be built constantly, recreated daily.”

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