81 Acts of Ordinary Kindness

file0001216055275A few weeks ago I wrote a post about service. I challenged myself to perform 81 acts of service, nine acts each day, for a nine-day period.

I deliberately chose the number nine because in numerology it represents completeness, wholeness. And I am a big believer in that what serves one serves the whole. I come from the belief that we are all intrinsically connected and that by serving one, we serve ourselves and we serve all.

But back to my experiment. For nine days I went about my normal routine looking for small ways to be of service to others. I wasn’t looking for glitzy ways of serving that didn’t look or feel authentic for the sake of posting something sexy or exciting. I just wanted to serve.

The first few days seemed pretty normal. I did things I always do…I let someone cut in front of me during rush hour traffic, even though I was running late for work. I complimented a woman I didn’t know well on the color she was wearing; and I offered a supportive ear to a frazzled coworker who needed to unload frustrations.

Regular stuff. Kinda boring to tell you the truth. So I decided to try a little harder to make a difference. When I went out to dinner I tipped a waitress 25% instead of 20%. I picked up the tab for another friend.

I actually kept a journal and listed the acts of service. (Yes, I felt silly doing it, but I wanted to make sure I was following through on my assignment and being accountable.) Each day I would go through my list. I was usually struck by how ordinary my acts of kindness were.

Was I making a difference, I wondered?

So I continued to track my progress. One day my list of kindnesses looked like this:

  • Wrote a blog to promote a friend’s new book;
  • Folded my sweetheart’s clothes (something I really don’t like to do);
  • Made a donation to the local Food Bank;
  • Checked on a frail woman in the grocery store to see if she needed help;
  • Tweeted supportive comments on Twitter and shared numerous posts;
  • Called a friend who is struggling with illness;
  • Flushed toilets in a movie theatre that needed flushing (Don’t even ask.);
  • Let a boy cut in front of me in the popcorn line at the movie; and,
  • Volunteered to come in and support coworkers on a weekend project.

Like I said, nothing earth shattering. Just ordinary acts of kindness or service that I wouldn’t think twice about in a day, except for the fact that I was writing them down for this blog.

And this is when I noted the obvious. I realized that it is the ordinary moments that define us. It’s the supportive words, the loving touch, the kind acts –no matter how small or seeming inconsequential–directed toward friends or strangers, that we toss into the wind and forget, that ultimately boomerang back to us.

They boomerang back to us in the form of grace. They return to us like magical beans that have sprouted into kind words, a compliment, or a supportive hand, at exactly the time we need them most.

They boomerang back to us in the form of a more civilized, loving society. As I said, what is in the one, is in the all.

So, back to my experiment. On the ninth day, my acts of service or kindness were pretty typical of the previous days. I let someone cut in front of me in traffic again; I complimented a friend; and I sent a note to my bosses to highlight the stellar work of a coworker.

But on this last day, I decided to do one thing out of the ordinary I wouldn’t typically do. I took four sticky notes and wrote a different message on each one of them: You Are Fabulous. You Are Wonderful. You Are Beautiful. You Are Loved.

And I anonymously posted these notes on the larger mirror in the washroom–one over each of the four basins–where they would be clearly seen by anyone washing their hands. A little later a coworker came by my cubicle with a smile as big as Texas across her face. She told me she had just run into someone who was laughing as she walked out of the restroom. The woman was talking about the inspirational notes she had just seen posted on the bathroom mirror. She described the notes I had left on the mirror to my friend and said, “I decided to go with the ‘You are fabulous’ message for today.

A little later I walked in the restroom and the notes were gone. I’d like to think someone who needed them plucked them off the mirror and pocketed them for themselves for a dose of inspiration. More than likely someone from the janitorial staff cleared them.

If so, I hope as they removed the sticky notes from the mirror, they were reminded of how fabulous, beautiful, wonderful and loved they are. And I hope the message sticks. And that it boomerangs back to us all in mysterious and magical ways, and when we most need to hear it.

Do you have some ordinary acts of kindness you’ve performed lately that you’d like to share?

If you’re interested in more thoughts on service, particularly at midlife, read my book Tao Flashes. Or visit me at www.facebook.com/taoflashes or on twitter @taoflashes.

21 thoughts on “81 Acts of Ordinary Kindness

  1. You are a very special lady and I hope you know that.

    I try to do acts of kindness every day. It simply makes me feel good.

    What you did for some unknown people with your notes was creative and genuinely fabulous.

    Paying it back to the universe is what it’s all about. We are all in need of a loving hand, a kind gesture, a pat on the back.

    Writing about it for others to read and perhaps leading someone else to even do is the greatest act of kindness.

    I know that’s why we’re friends.

    Wonderful post.

  2. Yes! I try to do something when the opportunity arises to be extra-kind. The other day I was in line to pay at Nordstrom Rack and a woman and her mother were behind me with the woman’s daughter who appeared to be on the Autism spectrum. She was having a very difficult time with the noise, colors, etc – very agitated and upset. I asked if they would like to go ahead of me, and they were so grateful. It made me feel AMAZING to help this family, even in such a small way.

  3. Lisa, your staying after my TED presentation at the Red Shoes was a HUGE act of kindness. Your kind complementary words about my presentation were just what I needed to hear. Thank you, I always appreciate the support you give me, you’re a real friend.

  4. What excellent reminders to pay it forward! I was in Las Vegas last weekend and until someone expressed their gratitude I hadn’t even really considered what I had done as a gesture of kindness. I performed these small gestures without thinking…holding a door, letting someone in line, being patient when a clerk was dealing with a trying customer, giving up a seat to someone, etc. I’m thinking, though, that I’m probably more generous and thoughtful while on vacation because I’m relaxed and just enjoying life. I so wish I could easily cultivate this feeling every day!

    • I think when we perform these ordinary acts of kindness, nothing special, just ordinary, that we re-connect with our basic spirit. When we lift up others, we lift ourselves. I’m like you…these are things I do every day without much thought. But now that I am thinking about it more….(for the blog), I’m really thinking about it MORE.
      It’s really easy to do the little ordinary things …I let three people out ahead of me in traffic on the way home from work. It cost me mere seconds, but it would have taken them much much longer to turn left against the steady tide of traffic coming from both directions. Small things add up. Thanks for your comment.

  5. Dear Lisa, Your whole challenge is wonderful, but I LOVE what you did with the sticky notes – and the “I decided to go with ‘you are fabulous’ comment. Last week during a very long, very hot, one day, 400-mile round trip to the big city I went into the ladies’ room in Trader Joe’s, and as I was purposely avoiding the full-length mirror on the back of the door, I noticed a small sticker in the upper right corner: YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL. I looked at myself in the mirror – and smiled. It’s too bad your notes didn’t stay up there all day. 🙂

    Discovered your site via you comment on Tara Mohr’s latest blog post and am looking forward to reading more.

    • Thanks so much for your comments. I’m glad you were on the receiving end of YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL note. How awesome. Sometimes we get these messages just when we need them the most. As for Tara Mohr, I just discovered her work. A friend recommended her to me a few weeks ago and I started reading her blogs and signed up for them. I find her messages to be so crystal clear. It’s like they pierce through the fog. I’ve been reflecting on some of her questions and posts.

  6. Reading your follow up post brought a smile to my face that began as a grin. Just don’t forget to keep on doing these small acts of kindness and make them a permanent part of your life. Blessings, Maritza

      • Just being kind warms our hearts and inspire us along the way in becoming better people, don’t you think? It’s an incredible experience, thanks for sharing it with us.

  7. Sometimes we get caught up in the minutae of life and forget to be kind, especially to strangers. Someone did a random act of kindness for me yesterday and it made my day – and then in turn, I wanted to do the same for someone else. It’s so important.

    • Yes, it is the acts of ordinary kindness that remind us of our humanity. By the way, I’ve been tweeting with some of the genfab girls under the hashtag #ordinarykindness. (I had encouraged others to share their acts of ordinary kindness there.) Why don’t you tweet your next ordinary ordinary act of kindness?

  8. Pingback: Two Movies and One Small Act of Kindness | Connie McLeod

  9. Pingback: Two Must See Movies

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