A friend pointed out that when one takes a moment to think about his or her actions – from the smallest to the biggest – it becomes clear not only how much our actions impact others, but also how many choices we have each day regarding how we interact others. For instance, it’s so easy to make the choice to hold a door open behind us, rather than allowing it to slam, potentially in someone’s face. Holding the door, smiling, saying thank you to strangers are simple ways to be kind, yet not everyone makes those choices. I try to keep this in mind, even though it’s not always easy, which anyone who has cut me off in traffic knows, but still, I try.
Yahoo’s How Good Grows program is going strong for another holiday season by inspiring kind acts under the premise that a single good deed can create a ripple of kindness. Last year my focus was small, anonymous acts of kindness. I bought Starbucks cards, a coffee bean grinder, a notebook and even a Sudoku book, and I spread them around the Bay Area with a little note that it was a gift of kindness for the finder. My favorite was when my daughter and I quietly on a Sunday evening wrote positive messages like “You are awesome” in chalk on the sidewalk leading up to a school a library. I have no idea what became of any of it, which made me want to do something more direct this year.
I’ve made a great effort to be a little nicer and more aware of the people around me in the last few weeks, but beyond that, I didn’t know what to do. I was lucky enough to be given $100 from Yahoo! to help create kindness ripples, but I wanted to do something more than treat 20 people to a free Starbucks drink. When I took the kids to see Santa, I planned on buying photos for the people in line behind me, but the only people in line behind me were two twenty-something hipsters decked out in clothing that looked like it cost a pretty penny. Everyone can use kindness, but these hipsters were already happy, laughing and goofing around, and it felt my money would be better spent elsewhere.
The next day an article appeared in the New York Times saying what most moms already know – over volunteering stresses moms out. Not only do I know two of the people in the article, I could easily name about fifty others who fall into the same category. We volunteer at school, we coach sports teams, we bake for fundraisers, drive carpools, lead Girl Scouts, collect money for teacher gift or coaches gifts, yet it always feels that the more we do, the more people ask us to do. It’s a tax on competency and willingness. With that, I called together a group of moms that I’ve known since my third grader was in preschool. While our kids each go to different schools, we basically take on the same roles at each school. Out of the five of us: three are Girl Scout leaders, three coach team sports, three are class moms, two have three kids, two work, one remodels bathrooms and builds furniture, two have husbands who travel for work, all of us have children who are involved in multiple activities. This doesn’t even scrape the small stuff, the little holes that are always being filled by these women. It’s no wonder moms are frazzled. I treated them to nail services at a local salon as a small way of doing something kind for people so accustomed to putting others first. I thought they’d be happy, but they were so much more grateful than I expected. They thanked me profusely and even bought me a tote bag as a thank you gift, which surprised me. It was a great night.
I was left with a little money after the spa night and every thought of how to spend it kept returning to one person. I know someone at my daughter’s school who gives every last ounce of herself for others. I’m intentionally keeping this vague, but things are not easy right now and I while I cannot give enough to smooth the road, I wanted to do something that would help a little, so I bought a grocery gift card.
I wish I could do more for her, but I know that even though my gift cannot solve her problems, it’s one of those situations where the thought really does count. Sometimes just knowing that people are thinking about you and rooting you on, can boost spirits. That is Yahoo’s point. The smallest kindness can grow into something much bigger. So hold the door open, don’t talk on your cell phone while simultaneously ordering coffee, and remember to say thank you. Sometimes the smallest things have the biggest impact.