Random acts of kindness: an update

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On Christmas day last year I blogged not about health, as such, but about random acts of kindness. I had a few days earlier witness a random act of kindness in an underground station. I was so touched by the experience, that I resolved making at least one random act of kindness my New Year resolution for 2010.

I’ve been pretty good about it too (even though I say so myself). My random acts of kindness have come in a variety of forms including random text (SMS) messages to old friends, pushing cars stuck in the snow, and giving lifts to hitchhikers. In a way, it’s been the random acts of kindness involving strangers I’ve enjoyed most. The looks and expressions of surprise and appreciation have been a joy to behold. I’ve also used these experiences to put the concept of random acts of kindness into other people’s minds. When the beneficiaries express their thanks I often say something like “No, thank you. I’m committed to performing a random act of kindness every day, and this was today’s. You’ve really helped me out by allowing me to fulfil my commitment.”

I’ve noticed, I think, a lot of random acts of kindness in return. For example, I’ve been making a real effort to be a more considerate driver and, for example, to let more cars out of junctions. I swear I’ve also noticed other drivers being a lot more considerate to me too. Some may say it’s probably my imagination. Quite frankly, I don’t care if it is. My experience is that driving around, including in my home town of London, is easier and more pleasurable. If there’s been no change, and that’s just my perception, I don’t care a jot.

I’ve also been the recipient of some unexpected generosity. I’d like to recount a particular episode, at it provides the lead in to another random acts of kindness I’m going to be writing about later in this post.

Earlier this year I was in Lisbon, Portugal, with my girlfriend, staying with a friend. In the morning, my girlfriend went off to a meeting, and my big priority for the day was to watch the England rugby union team play Italy on the telly. My friend drove me to a bar in Lisbon docks which was showing the match, and my girlfriend was due to pick me up from the bar once the match had ended.

I got myself a beer, and settled down to watch the match. A man who was sitting at a table plum in front of the TV screen saw me, and asked me if I’d like to join him for a better view. I gratefully accepted, and it turned out he was quite a rugby fan (unusual for a Portuguese man). We chatted throughout the match about rugby and other stuff, drinking as we went. At the end of the match, he got up, we bid our farewells, and off he went. I decided to get some fresh air and take walk, as my girlfriend was yet to arrive. When I went to settle my bill, I was told that my beer had been paid for by the gentleman I had been sitting with during the match. It warmed my heart, it really did.

This episode has been on my mind on and off since it happened, and I’ve been looking for an opportunity to exact a similar random acts of kindness. Today I got my chance.

I was walking the dog in the park. In the park is a cafe. It was quite chilly today, and there was only one person sitting outside – an elderly lady, eating a bowl of soup. As I passed the cafe I tried to attract her attention just to say hello and happy Easter, but her sole focus appeared to be the soup. As I walked past I remembered the Lisbon bar experience and my desire to pay that random acts of kindness back and it occurred to me that perhaps this was my opportunity.

I went back to the cafe and explained to the proprietor my intention. He was immediately into the spirit of it, and commented: “You’ve picked the right person there – she’s not got a lot of money.” I wanted to cry (but didn’t). I asked what her bill came to – £4.00. I’d come out without my wallet but I had some change in my pocket. It turns out I had just enough for the soup. I told the cafe owner to tell her a random stranger had paid for her soup and under no circumstances to accept any money from her.

I can’t tell you how much pleasure I got paying for this elderly lady’s soup today. I trust she was touched by the gesture. The cafe owner certainly seemed to be! I can’t remember ever getting so much pleasure from £4. I honestly think it’s the best four quid I’ve ever spent!

I suppose I’m hoping these stories might inspire some to carry out one or more random acts of kindness of their own. Done in the right spirit, the beauty of these acts is, everybody wins.

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