We are often motivated by grand gestures of love: humanitarian trips abroad, large charitable sums, the benefit auctions and concerts. But the ability to speak kindly to a customer service representative is not so easily accomplished. The act of building of a home for an impoverished family feels much more important than the small, menial favors we might give throughout our days. And yet, they matter. We’re not given opportunities to make a drastic impact often, but we are given opportunities to make small differences every day, many times a day. And while those small acts seem meaningless in the greater scope of our impact on humanity, they add up much more quickly. Rather than a select few, they allow us to impact every human being we interact with.
As a culture, we tend to focus on results. Each action must equate to some gain, some measurement of success, even some favor in return,. But true love gives freely and without reason. It celebrates the beauty of each person in every moment of their existence. Well-revered heroes of humanity like Mother Theresa, Ghandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. were men and women whose lives comprised of small acts of kindness. In turn, each of their lives is remembered as grand gestures of love that affected mankind forever. A caress of a child here. A peaceful retort spoken. A humble refusal to submit to wrongdoing. They lived out a series of small actions that became their habitual way of living; a series of single beautiful kind acts that made one grand life.
If we desire to serve humbly, to love fiercely, and live grandly, then we must sanctify our everyday encounters. Victor Hugo says,
“The great acts of love are done by those who are habitually performing small acts of kindness.”
So how will you begin? We came up with 16 ideas to get you started:
1. WRITE LETTERS (the old-fashioned way). There are numerous programs through which you can write letters of comfort and relief to those who are held back from typical human contact: prisoners, hospitalized children, soldiers, the elderly, etc. Browse some charities get a pen-pal, and make letter-writing a part of your routine.
2. PACK A LUNCH! Pack two lunches for work and then have an impromptu lunch date with a homeless person. Give them a meal and then share a meal with them. The homeless are in great need of food and shelter, but even more of positive human interaction. Learn their name, their history. Make a habit out of it. You may find yourself a new friend.
3. BUY FLOWERS! Go to the farmers market and buy several bouquets of flowers. Hand them out to random people. Stick them in people’s bicycle spokes, on their windshields. And while we’re on that topic…
4. MAKE SOME FRIENDS. Bring some flowers to a nursing home and visit with the elderly. Sixty percent of elderly in nursing homes will never receive a visitor. Have some fun with it. Grab a guitar and banjo with your friends and go perform some songs. Play scrabble. Develop relationships. Offer to pick up groceries for those who can’t drive. Take an elderly person to the beach who hasn’t been in years.
5. JIVE THROUGH JAVA. Appreciate those taken for granted. Buy a coffee for your security guard, the doorman, your bus driver, those everyday people in your life who go unappreciated. Let them know they matter.
6. FACE TO FACEBOOK. Instead of wasting time mindlessly perusing Facebook or Twitter, send a genuine compliment to someone right now – and not just about how they look. Dig deep. Who is particularly charitable, compassionate, a good listener? Write something nice to the person who posts constantly on Facebook, they may be lonely.
7. Talk to your barista before you give them your coffee order. Buy someone’s coffee who is scrambling for change. Tip generously.
8. Give COMPLIMENTS to strangers. Lovely dress, gorgeous hair, a beautiful smile. Let someone know you noticed.
9. DRIVE NICELY! Let a car merge in front of you. It’s painful, I know. But try it. Return someone’s anger with a smile. Put a coin in an expired meter.
10. BE FRIENDLY! Blithely greet everyone in your apartment, even when they don’t respond. Start conversation in your elevator. When you overhear people gossiping, be the awkward person who changes the conversation.
11. Babysit for a single mom for free. Cook a meal or do a load of laundry for someone who just had a baby.
12. Beat your whole family to doing the dishes (and refuse any help).
13. Be the first to offer up your seat on a bus or bench.
14. Invite someone who seems lonely to dinner. Introduce them to several of your friends. Help them build a community.
15. Make a great Spotify playlist for someone going through a break-up, or difficult time.
16. Call your MOM (Moms really love our phone calls).
This list may seem simple and obvious, but kindness is about building a habit of love. And no, kindness may not convert hearts, save lives, or transform a nation, but it may, for just a moment, let someone know they are loved.
In the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, Gandalf says, “Some believe it is only great power that can hold evil in check. But that is not what I have found. I have found that it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay. Small acts of kindness and love.”
Go bring love into your little corner of the world!