Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.
- Leo Buscaglia


Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Thoughts on the First Month

     Well today marks the end of the first full month of my kindness project, so it's a pretty good time to reflect a bit and share some of my thoughts and observations.  Including my 3-day headstart, I've now had 34 days of doing a wide variety of intentional acts of kindness.  Some of involved money and some haven't; some have been for strangers and others for people I know; some have been anonymous and others known; and some have been totally spontaneous while others have been more planned.  I've learned something from all of them.  Let me start with today's act/lesson, and then reflect on the month as a whole.
     I was once again at Wegman's today (this will happen a lot this year!), and as I was about to enter the store, I saw an elderly man coming out, struggling with what appeared to be two heavier bags.  I approached him and asked if I could assist him with his bags.  He declined my offer, saying "I got it."  While I would have liked to have been able to help him, the incident left me thinking about two things.
     First, I noticed that, because of this kindness project, I'm so much more conscious of looking for people who might need help and extending myself to help them.  While in the past I might occasionally do such a thing, it would only have been in situations that were much more obvious.  Now, I'm actually looking for those opportunities.
     Second, I've been noticing people's mixed reactions to offers of help.  I think today's refusal to accept help seemed to me to be more about pride; and I totally understand and respect that.  When someone offers to do something for me, my first kneejerk reaction is almost always to decline the offer, even if I could use the help.  I think it has something to do with both pride, and an attitude that getting help is somehow a sign of weakness.  Intellectually, I know that's not true, but emotionally, many of us have been somehow socialized that way.
    There have been other times this month where people have rebuffed my attempts at kindness, albeit for other reasons.  Remember the crossing guard who didn't want hot chocolate, or the older woman who didn't want flowers, or the man on Main Street who didn't want a Starbucks gift card?  I think all of these had more to do with distrust, or at least discomfort, with a stranger.  Over the coming months, I'll be giving more thought to how to lessen that potential discomfort  and whether or not there are things I can do to influence people's response.
     As I look back over the month as a whole, I can honestly say that I'm having a lot of fun, though certainly there are times where I feel some pressure to think of something to do.  I definitely find myself in a more consistently positive, optimistic, generous frame of mind than ever before.  Perhaps most surprising, but rewarding, has actually been the response from my many readers.  There are an average of more than 200 people reading my posts each day, and they're from 9 different countries in addition to the U.S.  I've gotten many e-mails from people telling me that they're not only enjoying the stories, but more importantly, letting me know that my project is having a meaningful impact on them.  I guess this kindness stuff really does spread, which is certainly a big part of what this year is about. 
     I want to thank you for joining me on this journey and ask you to share my blog with as many of your friends, family members, and co-workers as possible.  As the calendar turns to February tomorrow, I'm excited to discover what's in store!
    

Monday, January 30, 2012

More Thankfulness

     One of the best ways we can show kindness is to take time to appreciate those who've had a positive influence on us, or our families.  Throughout this year, I intend to do a better job of recognizing those people and letting them know of my appreciation, usually through handwritten thank you notes.  Today was one of those days.
     I was thinking about my son today, as he's literally on the other side of the globe on a mission trip to 11 different countries over 11 months.  Right now he's in Uganda.  A little more than 2 years ago, he left for the University of Alabama, which certainly seemed and felt like a long way from home (though nothing compared to Uganda!).  As any parents of college children know, it can be difficult to send your child off into the world on their own, especially a first child, and especially when it's far away.
     Not surprisingly, Ben did fine on his own and managed to build a successful world around him with a positive peer group and a number of good adult role models.  I'm particularly appreciative of a number of professors, administrators, and community leaders that seem to have taken a keen interest in Ben and have proven to be big supporters of his in a variety of ways - well beyond the classroom and school environment.  Today I sent a thank you note to one of those people, letting them know how much I appreciate their support. 
     One thing I've been noticing a lot lately is that when I "reverse roles", it helps me to understand how much certain gestures can mean.  I mentioned this in yesterday's post, as well.  Realizing how much it means to me to receive a well thought out thank you note from someone I may have impacted reminds me how much it means to someone else when I do the same.  Realizing how much it means for a friend to call or visit reminds me that they value and appreciate my taking the time to call or visit them.  Realizing how much I appreciate a call from my children just to say hello, reminds me to be better about calling my own parents.  I suppose it's just another way of helping me to get out of my own private world in my head, and connect to the larger world around me.
    

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Making Someone's Day a Little Brighter

     Last week I ordered some business cards to make it easier to give people my blog address and contact information.  On the bottom of the card, I wrote the following question, "What can you do today to make someone else's day just a little bit brighter?"  In a simple way, I think it captures the essense of intentional acts of kindness.  It's about thinking of someone else and purposely doing something to make their day better.  Today I focused on that thought as I did my act of kindness.
     I have a friend who had some pretty significant dental surgery on Friday - the kind that had to be pretty painful and would surely lead to some days of discomfort in the recovery process.  Yesterday I made sure to send her a note to ask how she was doing and to let her know that I was thinking of her.  Today I decided to bring her some things to brighten her day and to stop in for a brief visit. 
     Before going to her house, I stopped and bought a nice bouquet of colorful flowers.  Then I went to Target and picked out a big and complex jigsaw puzzle as I know that she enjoys working on challenging ones.  Not that she doesn't have anything to do, but puzzles can be a fun distraction when we're laid up for a few days and are in discomfort.
     I was intending to just say a brief hello and drop off the gifts, not wanting to intrude, especially if she was hurting.  As it turned out, she was improving and she invited me in for a visit.  It was good to catch up with her as we hadn't seen each other in awhile.  It's certainly easier to stay in our own little worlds rather than reaching out to check on and/or visit friends.  When I reverse roles, though, and think of how I would appreciate someone reaching out to me, it reminds me that the effort is worthwhile and meaningful.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

What's In A Name?

     A few weeks ago I was at a doctor's office, and after the exam he proceeded to dictate the treatment notes into a laptop that was sitting on a desk in the room.  As I listened to him describe "the patient's" condition, and the recommendations he made to "the patient", it seemed to me that this was a bit dehumanizing, as it tended to objectify me as "the patient" instead of describing me as a real person named David.  I've been thinking a lot about this topic since that day, and my ruminations have led me to resolve to be different.
     As I went out to do some errands today, I made a commitment to myself that I would use people's specific names at every opportunity that I could.  I had a bunch of chances to practice this just in one trip to Wegman's.  Pretty much everyone there (and this seems to be true in most retail establishments these days) wears a nametag that displays their first name.  When I went to the deli counter to buy some lunch meat, I said thank you to Megan.  When I was helped at the butcher's counter, I made sure to thank Mike for his assistance.  And when I went through the checkout line, I wished Mia a good day. 
     While this may seem like a small detail, I think it has an effect on both me and the person whose name I'm using.  For the other person, it's a form of acknowledgement that I see them as a unique individual, and not simply a checkout person or deli counter person.  I've often heard that people's favorite word in any language is their own name and that we even have a biological response to the sound of our name.  Using their name helps them feel more valued, and less objectified.
     Just as important, though, is the effect it has on me.  I think when I call the person by name, it reminds me in a very fundamental way that they're a person with their own unique story.  They have a family, they have likes and dislikes, they have hopes and dreams and fears and all the things that are part of being human.  A deli counter person is just a worker paid to process my order; but Megan is a real person with whom I can connect and for whom I can show kindness.   
     I know that I can sometimes be guilty of being too focused on the transaction, even when doing an act of kindness, and not enough on the human connection. As I go through this year and do my various acts of kindness, I want to learn to be better about making those connections.  Using people's names whenever possible is a good start.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Advice For a Friend

     I received an e-mail last week from the wife of an old friend, asking if I would be willing to have lunch with her as she wanted to "pick my brain" regarding some business issues.  Since I don't really know her that well, I was a little surprised that she reached out to me, but I replied that I'd be glad to help in any way that I can (especially if it was over lunch!).  We scheduled it for today and I met her at an Italian restaurant in Philadelphia, curious to learn more.
     Without going into all the details, her problem involved how to get a group of people to coalesce around the possibility of combining a number of separate businesses into one larger entity to gain certain strategic advantages.  She had some vision of where she wanted to go, but had no idea how to succesfully move the group from Point A to Point B.  As I listened and began to understand the various dynamics, I was able to offer a useful (I think!) framework for how to think about and approach the problem, and I provided her with some suggested next steps on the path to a solution.
     As I left the lunch and began the drive home, I was struck by how confusing and difficult this all seemed to her, and how straightforward and clear it seemed to me.  It also had me thinking about a new book that my brother, Larry, shared with me just yesterday.  It's the latest work by Marcus Buckingham, called StandOut.  The core message of the book is that we each have certain natural strengths and that when we focus on leveraging those strengths (vs. trying to shore up our weaknesses), we achieve the most success and we make our biggest contribution - to our families, to our companies, and even to the world.  The book provides an assessment tool to help you recognize your greatest strengths and then provides additional insight into how best to leverage them.
     So what does all this have to do with intentional acts of kindness?  Not surprisingly, my greatest asset is my ability to discern patterns where others see complexity, and to organize chaos in a logical, orderly way that's useful and easy for others to understand.  I've helped many people over the years in significant, sometimes life-altering ways, using this skill.  While offering flowers to a stranger or shoveling someone's driveway is fun and no doubt meaningful, my biggest impact will likely be when I use my natural strengths to help others see a situation with greater clarity. 
     I mention this thought not because I intend to abandon doing simple gestures of kindness every day, but simply because it's the result of my current reflection and is just one of the learnings I'm gleaning from my experiences.  Having said that, I'll continue to enjoy, appreciate, and take satisfaction from all the various acts of kindness, wherever, however, and to whomever I do them.  All are worthwhile and all have lessons for me to learn.
    
    

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Surprise in the Mail / Paying It Forward

     A number of years ago I saw the movie Pay It Forward, and it instantly became one of my favorites.  The movie, starring Kevin Spacey, is based on a book that was written by Catherine Ryan Hyde about a middle school student who, as part of a school project, starts a movement where people repay kindnesses by doing something nice for 2 other people, thereby "paying it forward" rather than paying it "back."  It's a brilliant idea on so many different levels and I've been thinking lately about how I can inject a little more "pay it forward" into some of my kindness acts.  I was able to do that, albeit in a subtle way, today.  Here's what happened.
     I decided I would take a couple of the Starbucks gift cards that I had purchased almost a month ago and anonymously use them to spread some good will; but I wanted to include a "pay it forward" element.  So I went to my computer and typed a note that said: "Please enjoy this small gift from an anonymous stranger simply wanting to spread more happiness and joy."  Then I added the following line on the bottom of the page: "What can you do today to make someone else's day just a little bit brighter?"  I printed off 2 copies of the note, folded each one into an envelope together with a Starbucks gift card, put a stamp on them, and got into my car.
     I wanted to mail the envelopes to 2 random people so I drove through town and simply picked two houses by chance.  I addressed each envelope to "Resident" and wrote the addresses I had chosen, with no return address, and then dropped them off at the post office.  I have no idea whose houses they were and probably will never know how they react; but I'm hoping it made each of their days a little better, and that they might choose to pay it forward in some way by making someone else's day a little brighter.
     Earlier today, I was talking about my project with someone and they commented that it would be great to be able to trace what happens with all these acts of kindness and how it impacts people.  While I certainly do think about that, and it would be fascinating, and perhaps even satisfying to know, I've really tried to let go of any attachment to results.  I've already seen how people can react so differently to the same situation, but trying to make sense of their reactions isn't my objective.  My two main goals remain to 1) cultivate a heart of kindness by doing daily intentional acts of kindness for their own sake, and 2) observe, reflect, and record what I learn, mostly about myself, in the process.  If I do have a third goal, it's to inspire others, principally through my blog, to increase the kindness they put into their own worlds.
   

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

A Dozen Good Thoughts

     Over the past few weeks, I've received many e-mails from various people letting me know that they were enjoying reading my stories, and more importantly, that the blog posts were giving them a daily dose of inspiration that was having a positive impact on both their outlook as well as their actions.  Of course I'm thrilled to hear that, and it got me thinking about the role that regular positive messages can have on us.  And that led me to initiate a different type of intentional act of kindness today.  Here's what I did:
     Since the internet is the fast and easy source for just about everything these days, I sat down and Googled "postive quotes" and I began to scan tons of websites dedicated to spreading optimistic, encouraging words.  I took out some index cards and began to write down some of my favorites.  When I had 12 good ones that I especially liked, I put the index cards in my pocket and headed for our local library.
     I had decided that it would be fun (and beneficial) for unsuspecting people to suddenly come across a positive, life-affirming message in a place where they least expected it.  So I strolled through the rows of shelves and randomly placed each of my index cards between books, leaving them jutting out just enough to be noticed when someone is browsing.  I have no idea whether they'll all be discovered within a few days, a few weeks, or a few months; and who knows what people will make of the mysterious cards?!  Hopefully each one will give the discoverer a moment of pause and reflection as they ponder the message on the card they found.  And hopefully it will bring a smile to their face - a smile that positively affects the people and events that make up the rest of their day.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Groceries For Those In Need

     For many years, I served on the Board of a large community social service agency in our area.  One of the impacts of my role, was that I became more aware of a large segment of people and families who struggle daily with mental and emotional illness, substance abuse, poverty, homelessness, and a host of other issues that make managing even the routine parts of their day-to-day lives a real challenge.  Today I decided to make a small difference for at least a few of those families.
     I knew that providing transitional housing for people who were temporarily homeless was one of the many services this agency provided, and I knew that these people often lacked some of life's basic necessities, so I called the agency's development director to see how I could help.  It seems that these families are often put up in small hotels until more suitable, longer-term housing can be found.  Since they have little money for food and almost no cooking facilities, they depend on things like simple, prepackaged or microwaveble meals, soups, canned fruits and vegetables, etc. -  so grocery donations can make a big difference.
     Swinging by our local Target store, armed with a list of needed goods I got from my agency contact, I went grocery shopping for at least some of these items.  I bought things like frozen dinners, soups, apple sauce, cereal, bread, granola bars, peanut butter and jelly, mac and cheese, and bottles of water, to name just a few things.  It was honestly a little sad to picture a family sitting in a hotel room eating this stuff, but I felt good that at least I was able to provide something for them.
     When I was done shopping, I headed straight to the agency where I dropped off the items at their "food pantry" and then headed home to my beautiful house filled with whatever food I want.  This, of course, led to a variety of thoughts and reflections.
     Since a big part of my commitment this year is to notice and record my thoughts and reactions, I'll share a few of them here.  Not surprisingly, one of my first thoughts is always to be thankful for where I am and what I have.  After that, though, I sometimes get caught in contemplating whether any of this makes a difference.  I know that it's an easy trap to fall into - seeing the vastness of the "problem" and feeling like my shopping trip is not only tiny in its impact, but that I'm not doing anything at all about the underlying causes of the problems. It's then that I try to remind myself that this year is not about solving all, or even any, of the world's problems.  Rather, it's about cultivating a heart of kindness and each day simply finding a way to help another person.  I suppose it's the mindset that so many who are in helping professions must adopt to stay sane and productive - in a sense, keeping your head down and helping one person at a time.
     As I progress through this year, I also want to stay mindful to doing a mix of all types of gestures of kindness, for all kinds of different people; and I want to keep a steady balance between acts that require money (like today) and ones that don't (like shoveling snow).  They both have their place, and both will make up the tapestry of what this year ultimately becomes.
    

Monday, January 23, 2012

Neighbors Helping Neighbors

     Prompted by an e-mail from a friend, today I discovered an amazing website that really demonstrates the power of harnessing the generosity and compassion that neighbors have for each other.  I'm really excited to participate and to tell others about the site.  Let me share the story here.
     Last Thursday, a local woman was tragically killed in one of those bizarre, freak accidents that can sometimes happen on the roads.  Though I didn't know her personally, I've come to learn that she was a truly remarkable woman.  The mother of 2 teenage sons with autism, she was apparently a tireless advocate for the cause, and in fact, was to be honored by the local chapter of the national fundraising organization in the next 2 weeks.
     The e-mail that I received directed me to a website where I could sign up to bring a meal to the family to help ease their burden in this difficult time.  I'm familiar with the basic idea of having neighbors help out with food as we were once the recipient of this type of generosity when my wife had foot surgery many years ago.  My wife has also provided meals like these to others many, many times over the years. 
     What struck me so strongly about this website was both the concept and the participation.  The site was apparently created back in 2007 by someone who found that the task of coordinating meals through dozens of phone calls could become overwhelming.  So she created a site where people could go online, see all the details of what was needed, and then sign up to provide a meal.  The site,  TakeThemAMeal.com, is free and is available to anyone coordinating meals for somemone in need.  Be sure to check it out.  It's a brilliant idea and beautifully designed in its simplicity.
     When I logged in to the page for the particular family I've been describing, I saw the name and phone number of the coordinator, the address for the family, specific dietary restrictions, and then the schedule of nights where a meal was needed.  Incredibly, in just a few short days, there were already more than 35 different people who had signed up to bring them meals!  The earliest date that I could even sign up to help was some 6 weeks away!  I picked a date in March and entered the details of the food that I would bring, and then I also made a financial contribution to the website developers to help them defray their cost of develpment and support.
     While it's tragic to think of what the family must be going through, it's nonetheless heartwarming to see how quickly friends and neighbors can mobilize to help those in need.  Sometimes it just takes a mechanism like this website to facilitate the process and allow people's natural generosity to shine through.
    
    
    

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Time For A Care Package

     Today was my day to send my first care package to the soldier I had "adopted" a number of weeks ago.  This is the person I wrote about in my post for January 6th as well as the one for January 14th.  My commitment as part of the Soldiers' Angels program is to send at least one letter each week and one care package each month throughout his deployment.
     Since I really wasn't sure what's needed, or for that matter appropriate, to send to a soldier overseas, I did a little internet research to look for advice and ideas.  Not surprisingly, I found a number of sites that not only had ideas, but also had pre-made packages ready for shipment.  In my letters, I've asked my soldier if there are particular things he'd like to receive, but since I haven't heard back yet, for now I'm relegated to putting together a somewhat generic package.
     To be honest, I had considerable debate in my mind as to whether it would be better for me to go shopping for items and construct my own package or whether it was perfectly fine to simply go with a pre-made one.  On the one hand, I felt like it would somehow be more meaningful if I went through the time and effort of putting it together myself.  On the other hand, I suppose what matters most for the soldier is simply receiving the items, and since I don't yet have any idea what he'd really like, the pre-made package seemed as good as anything I might do. 
     In the end, I went with the pre-made package.  It was a cold weather package that included a variety of items from warm sox to packaged soup and tea.  I did it through the Soldiers' Angels site which made it that much easier as well.  Hopefully I'll hear from my soldier before long and be able to tailer future packages more specifically to his needs and wants.  Incidentally, if you're interested, you don't have to have "adopted" a soldier in order to send a care package.  Through the Soldiers' Angels store, as well as several others, you can simply purchase and send a package to a random soldier and it can be done from you personally or even anonymously.  Check it out if you have the inclination.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Shoveling It In

     Last night and this morning we finally had our first snowstorm of the winter - at least enough that the roads and sidewalks were covered with a mixture of snow and ice.  Since lots of people struggle with snow in a variety of ways, I was sure there would be ample opportunity to offer my assistance.  After shoveling our own walkway, I headed out to look for such an opportunity.
     Not far from my house is a group of beautiful townhomes where the majority of the residents are seniors.  I knew that the homeowners' association would plow the streets around the townhomes, but I wasn't sure if there were any arrangements to shovel residents' driveways and walkways.  As I drove by, it appeared that most had not been shoveled. 
     I had about 45 minutes to an hour that I could devote to the task, so I selected one home and decided to shovel their entire driveway and the walkway to their front door.  I didn't knock on their door or announce in any way what I was doing.  I simply got to work, completed the job, and left.  I find that shoveling can sometimes be satisfying as I get that sense of completion seeing section by section turn from snow-covered to clean.  It was that much more rewarding today, knowing that someone was going to emerge from their home later to find their area unexpectedly clear.
     I continue to find satisfaction in both the anonymous as well as the personal acts.  Sometimes it's fun to offer assistance to a known person and observe how it makes their day.  Other times, like today, it can be rewarding simply to know that I made a difference and to imagine what someone's reaction will be.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Organ Music

     Last week I was visiting a friend who shared with me the remarkable, perhaps even miraculous, story of how he received a kidney transplant last summer.  It quite literally saved his life, and you can imagine the emotion in his voice as he told me about it, including the powerful story of exchanging letters with the donor's family.  I've been thinking about it since then and realized it was time for me to act.
     Today I registered with the State of NJ to be an organ and tissue donor upon my death.  It's a very simple process that can be done through the Division of Motor Vehicles when you get or renew your driver's license, or you can do it on line.  The US government oversees and coordinates the program nationally and through their website you can connect to your state's registry.  As of today, there are more than 112,000 people waiting for an organ.  What an amazing opportunity to make a difference!
     So if this is so simple, why have I waited so long to register?  To be perfectly honest, it's mostly ignorance coupled with some laziness.  Ignorance in that I really wasn't familiar with how to go about registering, and laziness in that I never bothered to take 5 minutes to figure it out. 
     In some ways, it reminds me of my decision to give blood regularly.  For many years, I never gave blood, and for no particular good reason.  I just didn't think about it seriously and didn't bother, I'm embarassed to admit.  Once I began to give blood about 5 or 6 years ago, and realized how easy it was and how vital it is, I became a regular.  While my organs won't be used during my natural lifetime, they're nonetheless even more vital and could well be the difference between life and death for someone in the future.  It's an intentional act of kindness that hopefully won't show its impact until this year is long over, but it likely will be the most significant act I do all year.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

CCC's Can Bring Smiles

     Going back to my college days, baking homemade chocolate chip cookies from scratch has been one of my specialties.  In fact, making cookies has even become an expected activity among a certain group of friends whenever we get together.  Since almost everyone loves freshly baked chocolate chip cookies, I figured this would be a great opportunity to combine a favorite pastime with an act of kindness.
     My "target" today was our local post office.  Over the past months, I've personally sent out more than 125 copies of my book, Fundamentally Different, requiring dozens of trips to the post office.  Contrary to our stereotypical image of federal government or municipal employees, everyone there has always been friendly, cheerful, and helpful.  They've come to know me by name and always ask how my book is doing.  So I figured it was time to thank them with some warm cookies.
    I made up a batch of my specialty this afternoon and since I had to mail out another book today anyway, it was a perfect time to bring them the cookies.  Two of my favorite people were at the counter when I came in and they were so pleased to be presented with the still warm cookies.  The cookies even still smelled good and they couldn't wait to dig in and start enjoying them!  It was nice to bring smiles to their faces and to let them know they were appreciated.
     This one was particularly meaningful for me because it wasn't simply giving away something I had bought (not that there is anything wrong with that).  The act of physically making something to give away somehow gave me a greater feeling of investment.  As I baked, I knew the reason I was doing so, and that made it more special and fun.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Common Courtesy

     Today's act of kindness might be also be considered an act of common courtesy, though there's plenty of overlap between the two since being kind and being courteous are two sides of the same coin.  Here's what happened:
     When I return home after being out, one of the first things I usually do is check to see if there were any phone messages left for us.  As I listened to them today, I heard a call from a woman named Catherine returning "Rob's call about the furniture" and leaving her phone number.  It was obviously a case of someone dialing the wrong number.
     Rather than ignoring it, I called the woman back and explained that she had left the message on our home number and that it must have been a mistake.  She rechecked the number and determined that her staff must have written it down wrong when they gave it to her.  More importantly, she was so appreciative that I called because otherwise this person Rob would be left wondering why no one ever called him back.  Now that she was aware of it, she could track down the correct number and get back to him.
     So much of courtesy (and kindness) is simply about treating people the way we would want to be treated, even if they're strangers and we'll never see or talk to them again.  If I had mistakenly left a message at the wrong number, I know I'd sure appreciate the recipient letting me know so that I could correct the situation - so it's the least I could do for someone else.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Attempting a Thaw

     Ok, this one is going to be a little tricky to write, partly because it's fairly personal and partly because some people with knowledge of the situation are likely to be reading it.  With that being said, I'll use as much candor as I think is appropriate to relate the story in such a way that my thoughts and reflections will have meaning.
     Today I decided that it was time to attempt to create a thaw in an old relationship.  Many of us, I imagine, have events from the past that may have caused hurt feelings and damaged or broken relationships.  And these events, absent any efforts to the contrary, tend to get frozen in time, like a ship stuck in an Arctic ice floe.  Years go by, and our lives progress, but these events remain forever stuck in an inpenetrable time capsule. 

     I have one of those events and it really doesn't matter why it happened or who was at fault.  Our versions of the past will likely never agree, and that's OK.  To begin to thaw that relationship only requires a kind and genuine spirit, and a willingness to go forward and not back. 

     Working from that place, today I sent a note to someone offering to begin a relationship anew.  I explained my desire to reconnect and suggested some times and dates where we might begin to do that.  Since relationships require more than one person, and I can only control my own actions, I don't know how my advances will be perceived and whether or not they'll be accepted. 
     In a weird kind of way, extending myself to someone I know well is much more difficult than extending myself to a stranger.  I suppose with a stranger, if it goes awkwardly or is unsuccessful, I know I'll likely never see that person again anyway.  One thing is similar, though, in both situations:  the only thing I can control is me - my thoughts, my spirit, my intentions, and my actions.  This year is about teaching myself to go through my days with a more intentional heart of kindness, and while I'm observing and reflecting upon what happens, I'm also letting go of any judgments or expectations about what might happen.  Only time will tell.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Brightening Someone's Day

     Today's act was a simple but fun one. Here's what happened:  
     After bringing my daughter back to college, I stopped to spend some time with my in-laws. They live in a beautiful gated community where guests have to first stop at a guardhouse to check in and to pick up a token which is used to open the gate arm that keeps unauthorized people from entering their particular neighborhood. Since I still had most of the gift cards I had bought a couple of weeks ago, I figured this might be a nice opportunity to brighten someone's day by using one.
     As I pulled up to the guardhouse to get my token, the young woman in the booth leaned out to ask me who I was visiting. She looked a little tired, maybe even bored. After we handled the necessary details, I asked her if she was coffee drinker. When she said that she was, I questioned whether she was more of a Starbucks person or a Dunkin Donuts person. With more of a smile, she told me she really loved them both, but if she had to choose she'd say Starbucks. So I offered her a Starbucks gift card. She was quite surprised and pleased and asked "Don't you want it?". When I told her that it was for her and that I simply wanted her to have a nice day she broke into a big smile and thanked me. Happy to have made her day, I proceeded into the neighborhood to begin my visit.
     It was fun to see how a simple act of kindness could totally change her countenance. I wonder how her new outlook on today affected the way she greeted the next guests to arrive and I wonder if her greeting affected their days in any way? I'll never know, but at least I gave it a start.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Cultivating Thankfulness

     It seems to me that of all the habits we might want to develop for ourselves, cultivating a spirit of thankfulness is a pretty good one.  Throughout this year of intentional kindness, I think I'll set aside regular days to be more mindful of my good fortune, and more importantly, to express thanks and appreciation to some of the people who have played an important role in my life.  With that in mind, today I decided to write a thank you note to a woman who was central to the early years of raising our children.

       At the time my son was born, my wife was working alongside me in our burgeoning insurance practice, and we really weren't in a position to be without her.  Like many young parents, we were concerned about finding appropriate childcare and balancing our desire to be home with our children with the demands of a growing business.  Believe it or not, through an ad in the paper, we found a warm and loving woman who had always been a professional "nanny" and was just finishing a job with a family whose children were outgrowing their need for her.  For the next 4 years, she came to our home and took care of my son, and later my daughter, for 20 hours each week so that my wife and I could both continue to work.  She cared for them as if they were her own.

     Today, we occasionally hear from or see this woman, usually around the holidays when our kids are home from school.  I've often not been present for these get-togethers, as they're usually filled with "girl talk" and other topics that don't usually involve me.  In fact, one of those occasions was today.  And that's what got me thinking about how fortunate we were to have her, and how rarely I've let her know that.  Today I made a step toward correcting that.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Overseas Pen Pal

     Today was my day to write my weekly letter to the soldier that I "adopted" in Afghanistan.  As I sat down to write to him, I noticed how hard it is to have a "one-way" conversation.  Since I haven't yet heard from him (who knows if I even will, and it's too early to have heard anyway), I tried to think of what he might want to hear about. 
     I gave him some sports updates since that tends to be a universal language among guys.  I also told him a little about my week, things happening with my family, and a little about events around the US.  I then asked him a few more questions about things in Afghanistan which hopefully he'll have an opportunity to answer.
     I know from reading the Soldiers' Angels website that, even if I don't hear anything back, receiving mail every week is critically important to the morale of soldiers overseas.  So I'll just trust that these letters have an impact whether I ever know it directly or not.  And later next week, I'll put together and mail off my first care package to him.
    

Friday, January 13, 2012

Flowers Anyone?

     Today was yet another interesting experience that gave me a lot to think about.  I decided that this cold and blustery winter day would be a perfect time to offer flowers to a complete stranger to brighten up their world.  As usual, there were some surprises in store for me.
     I swung by our local Wegman's where they have a variety of bouquets already pre-made, and picked out a nice, colorful mix of flowers.  Being a typical guy, I have no idea what kind of flowers I bought, but they looked nice. My first thought was to randomly pick someone in the parking lot to offer them to. As I scanned the lot, it occurred to me that maybe it would be better to offer the flowers to someone who perhaps rarely enjoyed such a treat; and if that was my goal, I probably needed to go to a different type of venue to find an appropriate recipient.
     With a new target in mind, I headed across town to our local Dollar Store.  I decided I'd wait in the parking lot and watch people coming out of the store to select the person to whom I'd offer the flowers.  Soon enough, an older woman emerged and headed toward her car with her purchases.  I walked up to her as kindly as I could, not wanting to appear threatening in any way, and asked her if I could offer her the flowers to brighten her day.  She looked at me and said, "No, no, I don't want them."  I made one more gentle attempt and met with a similar rebuff, at which point I decided to back off and wait for another person.
     Several minutes later, another elderly woman came out of the store, slowly pushing her shopping cart toward an old, beat up car.  Once again, I approached her carefully, asking if I could offer her the flowers.  She was hesitant, at first, not quite sure what to make of me.  She started to refuse, then asked "Why?  Why are you being nice?"  I simply told her that I wanted her to have a nice day, offered to assist her with loading her purchases, and took her cart back for her.  As she got in her car, she looked at the flowers again and remarked, "These are real!"  I helped close her car door for her and wished her a good day.
     As I reflected on what took place, I had a number of thoughts and observations.  I have to give some more thought about the best way to approach strangers as I realize that to many people, strangers can be unsettling, or even threatening.  I also wonder if people who have less, from a material perspective, are even more cautious or wary of strangers, feeling that people often take advantage of them and that people aren't nice without expecting something in return.  It will be interesting to see if this varies by socioeconomic class, or if it's generally true of most people.
     I'm also thinking that it might be a good idea to include a note with these and other anonymous gifts, telling the recipient that a stranger just wants to spread kindness and wish them a good day.  I'm thinking that this might disarm them just a little, once they read it, and allow them to enjoy the gift without trying to find the "catch."  In fact, I wish I had done that with dessert the other night.  Of course, this is all part of the process - trying all different acts of kindness for all different types of people in all different ways, and seeing what I learn.  Stay tuned for more . . .

Thursday, January 12, 2012

More from the Road

     Today was another day spent mostly on the road, making my way back home from Chicago.  It was snowing in the midwest and there was a good possibility of flight delays, cancellations, and general travel havoc.  With my new attitude, I was actually looking forward to the challenge and excited to see if the potential mess would create lots of kindness opportunities.
     As the day began, I had lots of ideas in mind from helping people brush snow off their cars to assisting with luggage to seeing how I might be able to assist stranded travelers.  As it turned out, the snow was fairly light and didn't cause any real delays or major inconveniences.  I kept looking at people at the airport, trying to find someone who needed help, but couldn't see any appropriate opportunities.  To be totally honest, it was actually a little frustrating.  
     Still, I was at least determined to radiate warmth and kindness wherever I was, even in small ways.  Once again I made sure to look at people's name tags (TSA people,flight crew,rental car attendants,parking lot courtesy drivers, etc.) and smile and thank them using their names.  I engaged the person next to me on the airplane in conversation, rather than receding into my own world.  I let people get off the plane before me when they had connections to make and I didn't.  I did have one chance to help someone who dropped some of her belongings as she was juggling too many things, but I was candidly hoping I could do bigger things.
     I suppose it's good for me to have days like this - when kindness is as much a state of mind as it is a noteworthy act.  I imagine that over the course of 365 days, I'll have my share of those types of days.  One thing I can say is that having a kinder and gentler attitude definitely made both legs of this week's trip so much easier, more enjoyable, and less stressful.  And it's good to be home. 

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Anyone for Dessert?

     I was in meetings for most of today and didn't easily see an obvious opportunity for a good kindness act so I decided that I would use my dinner time at a restaurant to do something I had read once in a list of kindness suggestions. Here's what happened: 
     My plan was to randomly pick out someone in the restaurant and have a dessert anonymously delivered to their table when they finished their main course. After surveying the dining room, I chose a particular young couple that looked to me like they may have been enjoying a rare night out (perhaps even having gotten a babysitter?). I told my waitress that I had a "strange" request for her, and explained that I wanted her to pick out a dessert that she would recommend, put it on my bill, and deliver it to the couple, but that she had to keep it anonymous. 
     The waitress kept an eye on them and at the right moment delivered the dessert. Though I was admittedly curious to know their reaction, I couldn't see them and was determined to keep it anonymous. As I was paying my bill though, I did ask my waitress if they seemed surprised. She said "They didn't even ask me!". I won't even try to interpret that . . . 
     So far in these first two weeks I've done a variety of things big and small, for total strangers, and for people I know, some anonymous, and some not. Anonymous things are fun for the sheer imagination of how people might respond to totally unexpected, seemingly random kindness. On the other hand, it's also fun to create more of a "direct connection" with someone by doing something clear and obvious for them, albeit unexpected. That being said, I've resisted, and will continue to resist, the inclination to judge or evaluate what kinds of acts are best. I simply figure any extra kindness I can spread is a little more than existed in the world before.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Traveling Kindly

     I'm on the road for the next couple of days and am excited for the chance to practice traveling with a totally different mindset and attitude. Today I flew from Philadelphia to Chicago and between parking shuttles, airports, rental car places, and hotels, there was no shortage of opportunities. I'll mention a few small events here and then also comment on my observations about attitude. 
     Being amidst a sea of humanity all trying to navigate their way from some place to another place is fascinating. People struggle with their luggage, with infants, with directions, and even with schedules. It was easy to spot chances to lend a hand. I helped a couple get their things in the overhead storage bin, I helped a woman juggling food, a baby carriage, and her bags. I even got a chance to pay the toll for the car behind me (since I didn't have EZ Pass!). But the biggest thing I noticed was the impact of my attitude. 
     I was determined to take my time, "chill", and radiate kindness. I let people go in front of me. I made eye contact and smiled at everyone. I looked at people's name badges and called them by their name. I even talked to the person sitting next to me despite his long beard, bandanna, and leather motorcycle jacket. He was a really nice guy! 
     It was such a pleasant day with none of the stress and angst I usually associate with traveling. And it was all in my head. None of it had anything to do with circumstances. Fascinating. More tomorrow . . .

Monday, January 9, 2012

Thanking the Thankless

     One of my pet peeves is when I hear or read complaints about our volunteer public officials.  It's not that we shouldn't feel free to voice a dissenting opinion. That's an important part of a healthy democracy. Rather, it's the angry, nasty tone that those dissents so often seem to take - as if the officials were all part of a sinister plot to defraud the public, as opposed to dedicated volunteers who spend countless hours trying the best they can to make sound decisions despite challenging and often conflicting sets of constraints. 
     Well today I decided that it was time to add in my two cents, albeit with kindness and appreciation rather than anger and cynicism.  I decided to send handwrittten thank you notes to two different people - one an elected official and the other a Board chair of an organization of which I'm a part.  Neither gets paid a penny, and both have tremendously difficult jobs.  Too often they're bombarded with complaints.  I thought it was important they know that their efforts are appreciated.
     So many of our institutions and organizations depend upon volunteers to make them work.  Thankfully there are still people willing to step up and take on responsibility, despite the negativity that too often comes their way.  Hopefully some words of thanks can make their jobs a little more rewarding.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Saying Thanks With Bagels

     This morning I made my periodic trip to Bruegger's in Philadelphia to pick up a couple of dozen of my favorite bagels.  I know it sounds crazy to go into the city just to get bagels, but they're the best around; so occasionally I go in and get a bunch and freeze them to enjoy over the coming weeks.  As I was driving over, I had two ideas in mind to use bagels for an act of kindness and figured I'd do whichever presented itself more readily.
     My first thought was to get an extra dozen or so and see if there were any homeless people lingering around to whom I could offer some fresh bagels.  As I approached Market Street, I scanned the area to locate any homeless people.  I didn't see any in the area as I parked, but I was determined to keep my eyes out for them.  After leaving Bruegger's with my bagels in hand, I continued to look around.  Unfortunately (or perhaps, fortunately from another perspective), I still didn't see any appropriate recipients.  I suppose I could have spent more time walking a few blocks further, but I did have a "Plan B" so I got back in my car and headed for my alternative site.
     My second option was to drop off the bagels to the local police department in our town as a small thanks for their tireless, and often thankless, service.  I figured anyone who had duty on Sunday was sacrificing family and personal time and could use a nice gesture of thanks.  I took a route past the police station on my way home and pulled into the mostly empty parking lot.
     When I walked up to the front door, I found that it was locked but there was a call button next to the door.  I rang it and was connected to a central dispatcher there who asked if I needed help.  I told him that I was at the station and wanted to drop off bagels to say thank you.  He sounded pleased and said he'd let someone know that I was outside the station.  After a few minutes of waiting, the door opened and an officer appeared.  I offered him the bagels with my thanks and he introduced himself, shook my hand, and said how much he appreciated it.  With that, I headed home, glad to have spread some more kindness.
     It occurs to me that the unexpected nature of these gestures makes them all the more impactful, and fun.  I'm sure the police officer had no idea that someone would drop off bagels today, just as the school crossing guards certainly had no clue that someone would give them hot chocolate the other day.  While some of cultivating a mindset of kindness is simply about being mindful of, and courteous to others, it's nonetheless fun to spread some unexpected goodwill around the area.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Kindness in the City

     Today was an exercise in simply being aware of opportunities to be kind that are all around us.  My wife and I were going into Philadelphia to see a show, so I figured there would be lots of people around and some kindness opportunities were likely to appear if I stayed present to them.  And that's exactly what I found.
     As we left the parking garage and began the several block walk to the Academy of Music I noticed a woman looking confused and lost.  She was pulling out her tickets and kept looking at the street signs trying to figure something out.  As we approached her I asked if she needed help.  She couldn't figure out where the Merriam Theatre was and I was easily able to point her in the right direction. It wasn't a big deal, but plenty of other people also probably saw her confused expression and didn't bother to offer help.  Truth be told, I probably wouldn't have in the past either.
     Minutes later, still not having arrived at our destination, a shabbily dressed man approached us selling some kind of newspaper for a dollar, saying that the money went to support the homeless.  In the past, I would have put my head down and ignored him.  Today, I told him that I didn't want the newspaper but would gladly give him a dollar to support the homeless.  He seemed appreciative as we engaged in a brief conversation.
     It seems to me that beggars and other solicitors present an interesting dilemma as it relates to kindness.  I can always question whether I'm helping or enabling, I can wonder whether they're legitimate or a scam, and I can get involved in the endless debate over whether I should have given $5 or $10 or much more, instead of a simple buck.  I don't honestly know the best way to think about it, and maybe over the course of this year I'll form some logical, consistent approach.  In the meantime, though, I'd rather assume that people are legitimate, and at least approach them with an attitude of kindness rather than seeing them as an intrusion in my world.  I figure that's at least a good start.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Adopt a Soldier

     I'm sure as the year progresses, I'm going to have plenty of days where my act of kindness is really small or when nothing particularly noteworthy presents itself.  But as much as possible, I want to continue to push myself to do things, large or small, that I wouldn't normally have done in the past.  Today, I took action on something that had been in the back of my mind for some time.
     Though I've had relatively minimal exposure to military life (none personally, and only a little through various family members), I wanted to find some way to support our soldiers overseas with letters and/or care packages. I knew there were a variety of organizations whose primary purpose was this type of support, but I didn't really know where to start.  So I did what we all do these days - I googled "how do I write a letter to a soldier?"  Not surprisingly, I found lots of good resources, and after exploring a number of them, I settled on a great organization called Soldiers' Angels.  
     After reading about the different opportunities to help, I settled on "adopting" a soldier.  This requires that I send a letter at least every week and a care package at least once each month.  In one sense it's a big commitment; in another sense it's the least I could do for those who are sacrificing so much on our behalf.  Having made the commitment, I was given the name and mailing address for "my" soldier.
     I wasn't quite sure how to start off the pen pal relationship, so I figured I'd just write a letter telling him who I am, and a little about my family, and then ask him a few questions.  The website warns that in some cases you may not hear back from your soldier, so I really don't know what to expect; but they also say that we should rest assured that getting regular mail means the world to our troops who are far away from home.
     To be honest, it surprised me a little that I felt a soft spot for this soldier who I may never meet or may never even hear from.  I could picture him as I wrote, imagining that he's likely very similar in age to my own children.  I hope he stays safe and that words from home are comforting to him.  
     It's not my intention with this blog to directly recommend specific actions for those who read this, though I do hope that some might be inspired to do their own acts of kindness.  For those so inclined, I'd encourage you to check out the website and consider the possibility of helping our soldiers in this way.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Hot Chocolate on a Cold Day

     Today's act of kindness came to me while I was on my morning run, though I had to wait till the afternoon to execute it.  Here's what happened:
     It was a cold morning in NJ and the roads were actually covered with a coating of snow as I headed out for my run.  Once I warmed up, I was cranking along at a pretty good pace when I came to a major intersection.  I hated the thought of having to stop and wait around for an opening in the traffic.  Just before I got there, an older gentleman, who was a school crossing guard, saw me and went out into the street to stop traffic for me!  That got me thinking . . . there are so many crossing guards around town and they're stuck out there in all kinds of weather so that our kids can be safe getting back and forth to school.  I should do something nice for them as a small gesture of thanks.
     Just before the elementary schools let out for the afternoon, I stopped by our local 7-11 and bought 3 cups of hot chocolate to deliver to crossing guards.  My first stop, of course, was to go back to the man who helped me out this morning.  He was sitting in his pickup truck, trying to stay warm until the first kids came by, when I walked up from behind.  He rolled down his window and I thanked him for his kindness this morning and offered him the hot chocolate.  He was surprised, but really pleased and gladly accepted.  As I got back into my car and then drove past him, he gave me a big smile and a "thumbs up."
    Next I headed to Main Street where I knew there would be another crossing guard.  I pulled my car to the curb, got out and approached an older woman standing on the corner with her "Stop" sign.  When I asked if I could offer her some hot chocolate, she said "No.  I don't want any."  I told her I just wanted to thank her for her service to the children, but she still didn't want the hot chocolate.  "Oh well," I thought, and headed undeterred for my next potential recipient.  
     Just a couple of blocks away I came upon another woman sitting in her car, reading a book while waiting for the kids to arrive.  When I approached, she rolled down the window and looked at me quizzically.  I explained that I wanted to offer her some hot chocolate and to thank her.  She seemed quite surprised, but also quite pleased and gladly accepted.  Her look made me think that she just might be telling that story to her family and friends tonight!
     I still had one more hot chocolate to deliver so I headed to another street where I knew there would be a crossing guard.  This time the guard was already standing on the corner as I parked my car along the curb.  I got out and offered her the drink along with some words of thanks.  She was happy to enjoy the drink and we talked for a minute or two about the challenges of being out there on some really nasty days.  When I left in my car she raised the cup to me in appreciation and flashed a big smile.
     It's fascinating to see the reactions people have to unexpected nice gestures. I suppose the fact that I look pretty friendly and harmless at least helps to disarm them a little.  Still, they don't quite know what to make of it at first.  I suspect that those who are willing to accept a kindness from a stranger, are probably much more inclined to assist another stranger as a result.  If so, we can really be spreading something.  If not, it's nice to do it anyway.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The Power of Meaningful Acknowledgement

     Those who know me best know that I do my best thinking in the shower (sorry for the image).  Well this morning I had one of those great shower thoughts that's simple, yet powerful.  And it formed the basis for today's act of kindness.  Let me share the story here.
     I've often heard it said in business that "what gets measured gets done."  I think there's a corollary to that in our personal lives: "what gets acknowledged gets repeated."  When we give meaningful acknowledgement or appreciation (specific, timely, honest), we reinforce the behavior that's being acknowledged.  Those of us who are parents certainly know this as it relates to raising our children.  The same, of course, is true for adults.
     It occurs to me that if we pay attention to instances of great works around us and we take the extra time/effort to acknowledge them in a meaningful way, we'll automatically create a wave of even more great stuff happening all around us.  Pretty easy and pretty powerful, if done with sincerity.  Today I was determined to find those opportunities and capitalize on them.  One was pretty straightforward and one ended up taking some work.
     My first opportunity came at the gym where I work out with a trainer.  I've been working with this trainer for about 2 months and he's doing a great job.  After our session was over today, I decided to let him know how much I appreciated the way he was working with me.  I was very specific in telling him precisely the things he was doing that made a real difference.  His smile made it clear how much it meant to him.  I'll bet he carried himself differently as he worked with his clients the rest of the day.
     My second opportunity was related to something that happened last night.  As I was preparing the marketing e-mail for this blog that I sent out this morning, I was struggling a bit with the software program I use, Constant Contact.  When I couldn't quite get the template to line up the way I wanted, I called their support unit (they actually have "live" support people available till 11 pm!), and spoke to a woman named Schermisia who tried to help me.  The short version of this part of the story is that Schermisia took some extraordinary steps to basically recreate my entire e-mail in another template to make it easier for me.
     My plan today was to call the President and CEO of Constant Contact, and tell her about Schermisia and the specific things she did to help me.  As it turns out, it's hard to get a hold of the CEO (Gail Goodman is her name) other than by e-mail but I figured I owed it to Schermisia to make it happen.  So I sent a long, very detailed e-mail to Gail telling her all the particulars of my experience, as well as acknowledging a number of other excellent things about Constant Contact.  In less than an hour I had a great response from Gail and we engaged in a bit of e-mail conversation (and I now have her phone number).  She appreciated my note, and assured me that Schermisia would be publicly acknowledged for her efforts.
     I certainly could have left it at the simple "thank you" I offered last night, and I didn't have to go to such lengths to deliver a bigger and more detailed acknowledgement, but I'll bet there are several people who wore much broader smiles on their faces today - and that can only be a good thing.
     

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Kindness at the Grocery Store

     Rather than planning on doing something specific, today I wanted to simply tune in to the opportunities to be kind that are all around me and to respond to what I see.  A trip to Wegmans, our local grocery store provided ample opportunity to do just that.  In fact, my chance came before I even made it into the store!
     As I pulled into the parking lot on this bitterly cold and windy day, there was the usual competition to find a spot as close to the front door as possible.  As luck would have it, someone was pulling out of a great spot just as I drove down that aisle.  Also as luck would have it, someone else started to approach from the opposite direction.  Remembering my strategy from the Eagles' game on Sunday, I let them have the spot and I parked further away.  With my new attitude, it really didn't bother me at all, and to be honest, it actually felt good to let them take the spot.  But there was more to be done.
     As I was walking toward the store entrance, I saw a mother with a bundled up infant pushing her cart filled with groceries toward her car.  I immediately went over to her and asked if I could load the groceries into her car for her so that she could more quickly get the baby out of the cold.  I offered to return the cart for her as well.  It was one of those little things that didn't require much of me, yet made her life a little easier at that moment.
     After only 6 days, I'm already realizing that the fabric of this year is going to be woven from tons of small, simple intentional acts of kindness like these.  The significance of each one may be small, but the collective impact they have on me and the ripples I send out into the world will be big.  In the past, I would never have gone out of my way to help that woman (and, indeed, she did seem surprised).  But as I change my point of view, it becomes only natural to see and respond to these opportunities, and they're fun.
     By the way, I also continued yesterday's emphasis on thinking positively about everybody I came across today.  It's getting easier already!
     

Monday, January 2, 2012

A Kindness Shift

     Today's intentional act of kindness was similar to yesterday's in that it represented more of a shift in my perspective than it did a specific, noticeable act.  Already I'm seeing that acts of kindness take so many different forms and undoubtedly this year will expose me to a wide range of opportunities and types of activities.  All of them have value, though each impacts me and other people in very different ways.
     My day began at the local gym where I belong, LA Fitness.  As you might imagine, with today being a national holiday as well as the beginning of a new year, the gym was packed with people determined to start their newly made resolutions about getting back in shape.  Nearly every machine was in use, the lockerroom was jammed, and it was difficult to even find a parking spot.  This was all perfect for my plan.
     To explain this, I have to first admit to some bad thought habits.  The first is that when I see strangers, particularly when they're not like me, I almost always think negatively of them.  To be honest, I actually feel a bit ashamed to write that, as it seems so unfair and even counterproductive; but I do it nonetheless.  I form these negative judgments based on what they wear, whether they have tattoos, how they carry themselves and a host of other superficial criteria.  One of the results of this inclination to negatively judge is that I tend to stay in my own little world with minimal interaction with these people, other than the pefunctory nods and grunted greetings.
     One of my other bad thought habits is to see other people running or working out as competition.  For example, I'll see someone running and think negatively of them because they're slow or heavy or out-of-shape, as if this somehow makes me feel better or more like a "real" athlete.  Obviously this is silly, emotionally immature, and not exactly life-affirming; but I do it.
     Well today I decided it was time to change all of that.  I determined that I would look at every stranger with kind and positive thoughts.  I would make real eye contact, smile, and greet them positively.  Where the opportunity existed, I would get out of my "bubble" and initiate conversation.  Instead of seeing the newbies on the treadmills and elliptical machines as fake athletes, crowding my space and destined to give up their New Year's resolutions in a few weeks, I saw how wonderful it was that so many people were doing something healthy like working out, regardless of how long it lasted.  Any exercise is certainly better than no exercise. 
     What surprised me the most was actually how easy this was.  In fact, as I was driving home I saw a slow jogger plodding his way through town and I was quickly able to focus on how great it is to see people out running - at whatever pace they're able to go.  I'm not really sure why this was such an easy shift.  Perhaps the world is intended to be a more positive place and when we put ourselves in that zone it's like flowing with the current rather than being against it?
     Here's the most interesting recognition I had today:  I've long known that I have the power and the responsibility to choose how I want to look at any given situation, person, or event.  And I've also known that when I choose to project positive, kind, and affirming thoughts out into the world, the world will usually respond in kind.  And yet, I've too often been guilty of ignoring this huge opportunity to positively impact my own life and that of those around me.  Today was a good start in owning up to that failure and, more importantly, making the shift to kindness.








Sunday, January 1, 2012

A Kinder and Gentler Eagles' Game?

     Well today was January 1st and the "official" start of my kindness project.  As it turned out, it was also the last football game of the season for the Philadelphia Eagles, and as a season-ticket holder and a diehard fan, I certainly wasn't going to miss it.  I chose to make my act today a fairly simple one; one that required no money - just awareness.
     Since I knew that I would be among crowds of people getting into, through, and out of the stadium, I decided that I would make a conscious effort to let someone go ahead of me at every reasonable opportunity, rather than forcing my way into every line of people or cars.  Nothing earth-shattering took place, but I still took away some interesting observations and lessons.
     If I compare today to the previous 3 days, what I notice most is that my gestures of kindness on those days directly affected the quality of someone else's day.  I surprised strangers in small, but probably memorable ways.  In contrast, my efforts today likely weren't even noticed by those to whom I offered them.  I was just another car or another body in line like everybody else and I doubt that anyone went home and remarked to their spouse about the person who gave them space to get out of the parking lot 30 seconds faster.  So did my gestures have any impact?
     Interestingly, I think today affected me more than it affected anyone else.  I noticed a greater feeling of peace and ease, rather than the typical feelings of stress that "fighting" with crowds can produce.  As I allowed myself more time and realized that there was no big hurry, it became easier to become more gentle and to allow others to go ahead of me.  It simply didn't matter to me. 
     It's possible that if more people took this approach in crowded places, a greater sense of calm and gentleness might spread.  I don't really know.  But I do know that I felt better and that is certainly enough to make it a worthwhile practice to cultivate.