On a cold, windy, rainy night in early September, 1977, my very late flight landed in Fargo, North Dakota. After 32 hours of travel, I was tired, nervous, excited and apprehensive. When I didn’t see anyone from my college waiting for me at the arrival hall, I asked the person at the car rental counter whether she could tell me how to contact someone. She cheerfully pointed to the phones on the wall.
I walked up and read that they needed something called a dime. I didn’t know what that was. I sheepishly walked back to the counter and told her that I didn’t know how to use a payphone, and that I was headed to Moorhead State. She stopped what she was doing, and with a smile said that she graduated from MSU last spring and offered to dial the call for me.
She connected me with my MSU advisor, and 30 minutes later the advisor picked me up from the airport with the wind and rain still howling outside. I found out later that she was entertaining some guests at a party in her home, but still left her guests to come and pick me up. And that was my first introduction to the power of small acts of kindness in USA, what they can mean to the recipient in the long term, and how these small acts of caring can change the trajectory of someone’s life.
I have been graced by numerous acts of kindness and help, and amazed by the goodwill and friendship I have seen from people around me. These had nothing to do with money, but all required someone to pause, think of a solution and have the willingness to act. Sometimes it was just a suggestion, information, or a helping hand — and sometimes it was a job offer. Or it was a neighbor, who knew that I was out of town for work while my wife was home with three little kids, and cleared five inches of snow off our driveway.
In the 1980s I recall people seeking help at street corners. My acquaintances told me not to give them any money because “if you give them money you are just helping their drug habit.” So when I saw someone, I would just look straight and would be happy if the stop light was green.
But it continued to bother me. I thought about it and realized that by not looking at that person, I was really acting as if that person did not exist! So I decided to start acknowledging their presence. If the stop light was green, I made eye contact, smiled and waved. If the light was red, I gave some money. And over the years I have pulled over to talk to young and old men and women, and even families. I realized that my place is not to judge who they are as a person, how they got there, or whose fault it is.
When I see someone in need, my decision is quite simple. “Someone could use help, will you help them?” That’s what I have been doing over the years. This small change in my thought- process and action has made a huge difference for me.
Some observations about kindness:
- It doesn’t have to cost anything. It is the thought and the willingness to act that counts.
- Kindness begets kindness. It is contagious.
- Kindness is selfless and targeted towards someone else. It is not tied to getting something in return.
- But I have noted that what I give, somehow somewhere comes back to me many folds. That’s not the goal, but that’s what ends up happening. I don’t know why.
- I have read the holy books of many faiths, and they all talk about being kind and helpful to all fellow human beings.
Goodness is all around us, and just needs someone to decide and act. I read that in 1957 a gentleman drove eight hours to the Poconos in Pennsylvania for a honeymoon. The resort denied his reservation because he was Black. The fifth-graders at the Bear Tavern Elementary School in Titusville, New Jersey started a letter campaign for the establishment to correct this wrong. The new owners of the resort offered a complimentary honeymoon suite to the couple, so after 60 years, the couple was able to celebrate their delayed honeymoon.
Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, with a day dedicated to give thanks for all our blessings. While I had to work very hard my whole life, every bit of achievement was enabled by God’s grace, and by numerous acts of help and kindness from many people. I now realize that no one does everything by themselves. The collective efforts and help from many people all contribute to propel us towards success.
Every day is a new opportunity to make a difference in our community. What better time than this holiday season to pause and reflect on our own lives, and decide to make kindness a part of our daily activity. If we all did that, a tsunami of kindness and goodwill will drown out the divisiveness developed over the last few years.
Try deliberate acts of kindness. I believe you will like it. And that will make the life of all of us, and our community, much better.