When I first ran across the saying attributed to Anne Herbert – “Practice random acts of kindness and senseless acts of beauty,” I liked the concept so much I started practicing it. I’d put carts into the cart corral; straighten labels and fill in holes on the shelves at the grocery store; entertain little kids whose parents were in the same line as I was by making absurd faces and getting them to giggle; straighten up coworkers’ work areas; scrape my own windshield clean of frost and snow and then go around and scrape the car windows of my coworkers who (apparently) didn’t have scrapers since they were either waiting for the car to warm up enough that the heater could do the job, or they were chipping away with a credit card or something. Eventually that practice became a habit. But somewhere along the way, my motivation shifted from “being kind” to “it’s a job that needs doing, so I’m doing it.” And over time, I stopped. Partly it was because I didn’t have a solid reason anymore to combat the embarrassment when my former best friend would make fun of me or deride me for “doing someone else’s job.” Partly because I got lazy. And partly because I was tired of being taken for granted.
One of our exercises this week is to practice random acts of kindness, and I admit, I breathed a sigh of resignation to myself on hearing that. I’d ‘been there’ and ‘done that’ and didn’t have lasting pleasant associations with it. But, it was a requirement, as was reporting about it.
I did have a problem with the “secret” portion of it. I can hold my silence when the matter is an important one, but I’m an awful conspirator. Surprise birthday parties, for example. If I’m in the know about one of those, my only hope to avoid giving away the game is to avoid the subject entirely. And the few times I’ve been involved in one of those “Secret Santa” things… let’s just say that nobody had any trouble figuring me out.
Still. It was part of the MKMMA course, therefore I was going to do my best.
So I went back to being randomly kind. And after the first day or two, I realized why it was I’d stopped in the first place. Let me tell you, the act might have the same appearance, but the result completely differs depending on the motivations!
Being kind for the sake of being kind is fun. And as soon as I restructured the reason I was doing what I had done in the normal course of things for years, I started seeing kindness everywhere. From drivers who allow traffic to merge in front of them to the way people do their jobs – are they smiling? Cheerful? Do they offer a word or two of conversation as you interact with them? Are they offering a step or two above the “average” level of service? Because cashiers, doctors and nurses, gas station attendants, the folks who work at fast food places, they don’t have to be cheerful, y’know. Or even helpful. It’s possible to do the bare minimum out of a desire for a paycheck and still not annoy people enough that they complain about it.
I don’t know how many will remember this, but for a while in the late ’90s and early 2000s, there was a business philosophy that was all the rage. It began at a Seattle fish market in the early ’90s (oh, and you might want to check out the Wikipedia entry for a key MasterKey concept that they employed) and became a national sensation. FISH! Philosophy revolves around four simple steps: Choose your Attitude; Play; Be present; Make their day.
I had the opportunity to listen to a recording of Carr Hagerman (otherwise known to Minnesota Rennaisance Festival patrons and performers as The Rat Catcher) speak about FISH! Philosophy. What struck me the most was when he started talking about the step Make Their Day. I can still hear his voice in my head; “We have become a nation of exceedingly poor customers.” We expect, we want, we gripe and complain when we judge the service hasn’t been good enough, we blame… We aren’t kind. We don’t see what they do right. We allow our opinion of them to become fact in our own minds (they’re lazy, overpaid, don’t understand the value of hard work or of a dollar, and if I was the manager here…) and then we behave based on that story we’ve gone and told ourselves.
(Knowing what I know now of the Universe and how it works, I suspect very strongly that FISH! Philosophy is yet another iteration of the MasterKeys in disguise.)
I still have trouble with the incognito aspect of our kindness exercise.
Oh, I understand the rationale behind it well enough. Like in Og, we should not “indulge, anymore, in self-praise for deeds which in reality are too small to even acknowledge.” Doing a kindness ostentatiously is self-defeating, since the whole point of that variety of kindness is for other people to see and praise what that person is doing. Diane Duane says it well (and poetically) through her character Rhiow in To Visit The Queen; “Silently shall I strive to go my way… doing my work unseen; the Light needs no reminding by me of good deeds done by night.”
I suppose I view being asked to act incognito as touching on my integrity. What reason is there for concealment, when I am not ashamed of what I’m doing and the things I choose to do are an outgrowth of my character and committment to leave the world a better place than how I found it? Likewise, what reason is there for me to go out of my way to be noticed, either, when I do these things because it is right to do them?
Oddly enough, I’d feel the same way if I’d been asked to commit random acts of kindness as openly as possible. And my reaction has that “deep-seated” feel to it that suggests it’s somehow fundamental to my nature. Kind of like it says in the Oath of the Firstborn of the Kindred, “I walk my own Way/accepting no demands save those of my conscience/rejecting all law save that which I create for myself through wisdom and love.” (It’s from a book I wrote… though it might be better phrased to say the book wrote itself through me.)
Still in all, it’s been a good week. A fun week. A week filled with open eyes looking through the lens of kindness.
I like that lens.