Sunday, January 23, 2011

Random Acts of Kindness

Maybe some people (pretty girls, for example) are used to strangers being nice to them, as a middle-aged, relatively unattractive, introverted male, I'm not.

Friday night I was off to visit with some friends and had to stop at the ATM since I had absolutely no cash on me (I was waiting until payday to get some).  I stop at a kiosk in the town of New Paltz that has two cash machines and someone else is using the other one.  Put my card in, enter my PIN, and I get the message "Incorrect PIN".  I do it again.  Same message.  Then I begin the doubt myself (I'm getting old, maybe senility is setting in) and try a couple of other combinations.  Then I call my wife on the cell phone and ask her what the PIN is.  She gives me the same number I originally tried.  Try again and still doesn't work.

I complain to her that I need to have $1.00 to get over the bridge (Mid-Hudson Bridge as my friends are in Poughkeepsie) and I don't have it.  I'm 20 minutes away from home so it would be a 40 minute round trip to return and get a buck (and cost more than that in gas!) and I'm already worried I'll be late.  I tell her I'll go in the car and see if I can scare up some change in the glove box, under the seat, whatever.

As I'm in the car looking for change (managed to find only about 60 cents or so), the guy who was at the other ATM comes over to my car window.  At first I get a little nervous since it's dark out and all but I roll down the window and he says "I overheard you talking on the phone and I wanted to give you a dollar so you can pay the bridge toll."  At first I didn't want to take it, I'd never ask a stranger for money, but he insisted so I thanked him and we parted ways.

I'm usually a very cynical person, typically believing the worst in people (first thought when someone approaches my car window at night - they want to rob me or beg for money) and I'm not often disappointed.  This genuinely surpised me.  There are kind and thoughtful people in the world (and I'm ashamed to say I'm not usually one of them).  Now I know it's a small thing, it's not like I was hungry or stranded somewhere or beset with poverty, just inconvenienced and annoyed, but it was still a nice gesture from one stranger to another.

Since I don't know who the person was, I'll pay him back by trying to do something nice for a stranger myself (now don't send me email asking for money, it was only a dollar!  By the way, have you heard what the difference is between a community college professor and a pizza?  A pizza can feed a family of four).

That button above - "Practice random acts of kindness and senseless beauty" refers to a quote from author Anne Herbert that has inspired many people.  See, for example, the website for the Random Acts of Kindness organization.  Random acts of kindness week is February 14-20.  I resolve to try to do at least one nice thing a week for someone, even if it's just an encouraging word.  Can't be too hard to do, can it?


  1. You're so right, it doesn't have to be something big. Doesn't even have to cost a dollar. Sometimes, all that's required is a question: "Do you want to talk about it?" Had a customer on the phones once who was speaking in a complete monotone. Finally asked him what was wrong. "You don't want to hear my problems," he said. "Will it help?" I asked. He paused, said yeah, and launched into the story of the horrors of his past year, in which he'd lost nearly everything he loved in the world. And at the end he sighed, and said, "I do feel better," and had a little life back in his voice.

    One of the nicest things anyone's ever done for me is pretended a bottle of ketchup like it was champagne. I'd hit one of the lowest points in my existence. All I wanted to do was crawl into a corner and disappear. I kept my nose buried in a book at Denny's, and then this waiter did that ridiculous thing, which caused me to smile and laugh and realize that yes, parts of the world don't suck. I'll never forget it. Such a small thing, but so huge in context.

    So yeah, that's how easy kindness is: a dollar, a gesture, an ear. And I'll guarantee you've performed more random kindness than you think. This whole blog, in fact, is a random act of kindness, giving people you may never meet IRL the thrill of knowing something about the world they didn't know before.

    Wonderful stuff, kindness, innit? ;-)

  2. Mentioned your RAK situation in a short piece written for - please check it out...