A few months ago, I posted here about a project I planned to undertake — performing 50 acts of kindness in honor of my upcoming 50th birthday.
While I’m happy to report that I’m almost halfway to my goal (21 “acts” completed since October), I’m also happy to talk about the unexpected direction this project has taken me in.
I wrote about my first two acts of kindness – random placements of Post-it notes with cheerful messages, and an artificial rock with a message of peace left at the head of a hiking path. And then most of my acts of kindness turned more personal. Gestures for friends who could use something to smile about. Donations of time, money and goods to organizations close to my heart.
Writing about these less-than-random acts seemed self-serving. These were things I’d probably be doing anyway, and every time I sat to write about one of these acts, it felt as if telling people would take something away from it.
This got me thinking about people I’ve encountered in life who do feel the need to announce their acts of kindness. And how sometimes, these people live their everyday lives in a way that contradicts the good things they do while people are watching. I’m talking about the people who make large financial donations that are acknowledged publicly, while treating a grocery store clerk or restaurant host poorly. The people who post photos of their charity work on social media, and then park illegally in a handicapped spot or demean the staff at their child’s school.
I was thinking about this enough that I decided to meet with the rabbi at our temple to talk it over. He had recently announced a plan to get together with individual congregants to get to know them on a more personal level. I figured that taking him up on the offer might be a also be a good way to talk through this issue I was trying to reconcile with someone who had a different perspective and a strong moral compass.
The rabbi and I sat for an hour and talked about lots of things, including my project and the dilemma I was having about writing about my own acts of kindness, in light of things I’d seen and didn’t like.
He responded in a way that I didn’t expect, and that has shifted my perspective. The unfortunate truth is that there will always be people like this, and it’s likely that nothing you do is going to change that. But rather than focusing your attention and energy on these people, instead appreciate the people whose work aligns with their values and the way they live their everyday lives. And more importantly, let them know that you’ve noticed and that you appreciate it.
So I’ve been trying to doing that. Thanking the people who are kind to others when they think nobody is looking. Letting people know that I appreciate that they live in a way that doesn’t pretend to be something it’s not.
The best part of this is that by taking the rabbi’s advice, I’ve been noticing the good people more, and the others don’t bother me nearly as much. So, my plan is to continue quietly doing these “acts of kindness,” and less quietly letting others know how much I appreciate theirs.