on the day of my graduation from michigan state university i remember sitting in the stands with one of my roommates. in oversized green gowns and our graduation caps, we anxiously waited for our names to be called so we could walk across that graduation stage. a symbolic celebration of all of the time, effort, and work we put forth to earn our degrees. we took a picture on my phone so that i could send it to my family members who were not able to attend. and though the speaker did a wonderful job, i only remember the last three lines of his entire speech. out of all the things he spoke about, he asked us only to remember this:
be kind. be kind. be kind.
and out of this first major stepping stone and accomplishment in my life came the motto i’ve come to live by. kindness then, is not something i hope to do, but rather, someone i hope to become. in that moment, i decided that i wanted one of my greatest life accomplishments to be that i showed kindness to every person i encountered and in every situation i was presented with. it wasn’t until years later that i truly began to recognize that they way you treat people says a lot about who you are a person. and it wasn’t until i began to consciously practice kindness that i learned that people who give out the least gestures of kindness are often the ones who need it most. and i’ve learned that where there is kindness, there is also love.
two years ago i decided to participate in my first annual random acts of kindness (RAK) week and invited my friends from all over the united states to participate. i made it my goal to connect with a person from each state so there were stories of random acts of kindness taking place all over the united states. it turned out to be a beautiful thing. and not just because people were performing wonderful, selfless, and loving acts of kindness to strangers, but because for the first time in my life, i was challenged to consider what benefit ‘being kind’ was doing for the world. a friend who i deeply admire wrote on my facebook wall and cautioned me about my perception that kindness could change the world; ‘while kindness is good,’ she stated, ‘you must also question whether it is doing anything for the world at large, because it often benefits the giver more than the receiver.’
she was right, i really did have to question what good kindness was doing for the world at large, and whether it was worth it to continue to try and promote it. i spent the next few days arguing both sides to myself, trying to come up with a conclusion. i guess i was naive to think that kindness could in fact, solve the world of all of it’s problems. i wish it could end armed conflict and social inequality, i wish it could improve our environments and make it rain in california. and i wish kindness could undo the suffering of those living with a mental illness, terminal illness, or going hungry because of a lack of food.
i know that it doesn’t. but in a way, i also know that it does.
i know it seems overly simplistic- and that would never be my intention- but what would the world be like if we treated each other differently? if we listened instead of talked and sought to understand instead of judge? what if we chose to act? what if we stopped talking about all of the things we were going to do, and started doing them instead? and what if we committed to alleviating the suffering of others, in whatever way our individual lives could best be served? what if we were kind to the earth? when it comes down to it, i realize that kindness may not be the solution, but i do believe it can be part of the answer.
i realize the world is big and our individual efforts can often times feel small. and i think kindness is one of those things that really matters when you’re in a long line at the airport and have been waiting the entire day to get home. and kindness matters when you are running late on your first day of work and someone lets you merge into traffic. kindness is what happens when you see someone on the side of the road saying their hungry and you stop to buy them some food. kindness is when you start asking questions, formulating plans, and begin seeking to make a change. a simple gesture of encouragement, an umbrella handed to you on a rainy day. kindness is what gives you hope that tomorrow will be better. and kindness is what makes you believe that it will be.
and maybe on particularly bad days, you aren’t performing random acts of kindness for strangers you encounter on the street or the family and friends you care about. perhaps you are performing these acts for yourself. i recognize that some may consider this to be selfish, i however, see it as an individual recognizing that they need some good in their life and taking the necessary steps to get there. these acts have the ability to remind us on a very small scale of our ability to make positive changes in our lives and connect us with people we know nothing about. these acts tell us that we can do better. and one of the best things about kindness is that it is a win-win act, everybody wins and everybody gains. because when you decide to do something nice for someone else you can’t help but feel good about yourself, and sometimes, i think that is something we all need. sometimes we need to remember that we are good and that we can do good.
kindness most often encourages kindness. because when you see someone do something nice for someone else it encourages you to do the same.
and when it comes down to it, i just don’t see that there can be an argument against treating one another with respect, gentleness, and love. maybe it is a grand gesture or a simple quiet one, like holding the door open or remembering your server’s name. maybe you tell others about your act, or maybe you keep it to yourself. maybe it’s something you try and do everyday or maybe it something that requires a concentrated effort to try. i think what matters is that you are trying to become a better person by improving the life of another individual, even in the tiniest of ways.
this post is about remembering that the world is a beautiful place.
and this post is about remembering our role in moving forward.
this year i need your help. it is my goal that we spread kindness -in large and small ways- not just this week, but every day. and so i challenge you to a week of dedicating your time, energy, and love to a commitment of kindness. kindness in every breathe. kindness in every word. and kindness in every encounter. it is my goal to have the most possible people participating in unique, loving, and creative ways throughout the entire world. and i realllllyyy would love to hear about how you decide to do it.
i’ve also decided to make RAK week part of my first ever contest!!! On The Rocks Vintage Clothing and I have partnered together to come up with a fun (gender neutral) prize to be awarded to the most thoughtful, creative, and inspirational RAK. The prize will include a vintage item and some of my personal favorite inspirational things :)
if you are interested, here is how you can participate:
1. perform a random act of kindness (or several) throughout the week
2. document your RAK using social media (take a picture or describe what you did)
3. use the hashtag #todaywasmeaningful with your RAK post so that i am able to view it
**if you aren’t interested in sharing your RAK on social media, feel free to email me via the “contact me” section on my blog to share your RAK with me!
…and that’s it.
at the end of the week we will select the most thoughtful and creative RAK and award you with a prize. :) …but really, this week is about kindness.
i hope you’ll join me.