I was out driving today and I saw a large billboard and on it there was a message; “In a world in which you can be whatever you want to be – be kind!”
I was once living in a community with some extraordinary young adults. I had had a huge week and was exhausted. I had done my washing and hung it out to dry at the start of the day before I had gone off to a work engagement. In the afternoon it had rained. I returned home late afternoon expecting to see my very wet clothing hanging limp from the clothesline. The clothesline was bare and when I went to my room my laundry was sitting there neatly folded on my bed. I remember as the community gathered for the evening meal thinking – “One of you went out of your way to be kind to me today!” No-one said a word, no-one claimed the kind deed as theirs. But the effect upon me was extraordinary; I felt loved, cared for, thought about – held. I think I may have even smiled!
RAKS – Random Acts of Kindness – take several forms. There is a one like the example just referred to where someone does a random act of kindness totally anonymously. Somebody gives with no thought of reward and recognition. They do it in such a way that the other does not know who they are. When we do something, some kindness, – however big or small – just for the sake of doing it, when we don’t draw attention to self, when we deliberately avoid any form of attention the act has a wisdom and a power intrinsic to it.
When your act of kindness is random and has no audience it has a special power; it gifts YOU with an inner sense of joy and freedom. By acting anonymously you take the ego out of it. The ego loves an audience – actually thrives on an audience and will just love it when your kindness is seen or acknowledged or appreciated and will go all sullen when this does not happen – will actually sulk. There is a true and deep freedom when you can RAK beyond ego!!!
Last October an Australian man Richard Morris was visiting Wiltshire in England when he left his wallet on the top of a hire car and drove off. About to cancel his credit cards and change other identity items that were in the wallet Richard was surprised when – some weeks later – a package arrived from the UK containing the wallet with everything still inside of it including quite a sum of cash. Not only was this RAK anonymous it had cost the ‘good Samaritan’ quite a deal of money. With the package was a simple note;
Another time I was working in a large school and had overseen a large evening function where the parents and their sons had come to the school to talk about a trip to East Timor. The large room which we had used was going to be used at the very start of the following day. I had left the room to say good night to the parents and ensure everybody got safely away. In doing so I got caught up in a long conversation with a concerned parent. Upon my return to the venue an hour later expecting to be spending another hour cleaning up, putting away the Audio Visual equipment and stacking chairs I discovered that someone had done it all for me – leaving the room spotless and ready for the following day. To this day I do not know who did it all for me.
They were not asked to do it. They got no praise or recognition for doing it. It was not about them. It did not get them ‘brownie points’ in my book. Their name or names were not put up in lights. It just was done and done well. Like the pebble in the proverbial pond the RAK flows outward; it gives, it gifts, it creates a ripple of positive energy, of joy and of hope. This ripple of positive energy firstly begins within you as this mindset of giving just becomes more and more part of who you are and what you do. But the effect on the other can be powerful too with its own ripple effect. As they experience the kindness, not knowing who was the giver – this ennobles them, empowers them, invites them to do the same – they grow more positive, more hope filled and perhaps you have inadvertently sown the seed of RAKS within them too.
One of my favourite past-times is to go hiking. I have a group of about ten friends and each year – some combination of three of them and myself will set out on an adventure – often in the Alps of New Zealand or down in Tasmania – wherever. As we walk along – it is almost an unspoken rule that we pick up the little bits of plastic and paper that others have dropped. They go into our rubbish bag at the end of the evening meal. No big deal, no massive thing – just do it! Leave the forest cleaner that what we found it.
Another form of a RAK is when the person just does the kindness as part of who they are and do it to a stranger or someone that cannot pay them back. I’ve seen people at a cash register struggling to find the right money to pay for something and a stranger steps forward, pays the amount owing and walks off. I’ve seen people assisting a mother with a large pram get the pram on to or off a train and then just walk off. I’ve seen a school student who had crossed a busy street at the lights return to the middle of the crossing to assist an elderly man who was struggling to make it across before the lights turned and allow the flow of traffic.
While I am not a fan of the company NIKE in the way that they have previously abused labour with low wages in majority world countries to produce their apparel – I do like their slogan; NIKE – just do it! With Random Acts of Kindness – you just do it. There is no fanfare, no flag waving, no philosophical debate or reason – you just do it. Don’t over think RAKS! Just DO it – some simple real action that makes a difference – however small.
Another form of a RAK is when the person just does the kindness as part of who they are within the ordinary in the day to day – especially to people who are vulnerable or powerless or poor – knowing they cannot repay you. But the WAY in which they do the little act of kindness is so humble, so respectful, so reciprocal that the other is hardly even aware that an act of kindness was done to or for them.
One of the very familiar – pretty well constant memories from my family home was to hear my mother Zena doing her shuffle (in her older years) along the lino floor to the phone. Mum would be accompanied either side by her ever faithful terriers Basil and Bailey. I would be reading a book on the front veranda and I would hear mum, “Hello Ethel – it’s Zena here. How are you?” Mum would, on a very regular basis – almost daily, be phoning one of the ‘old dears’ around the town who she knew was unwell or invalid or suffering some difficult time. Zena would be reaching out to them to see if they were ‘OK’. In her younger years – up until about aged 85 she would often visit them accompanied by the obligatory bottle of homemade mango chutney or pickles or whatever.
Do you have people like Zena in your life? What is their secret?
One of my own little habits is to look at a person’s name tag when I am in a shop about to be served. I try to greet them by name. If they aren’t too busy I will ask how their day has been. No big deal, no massive thing – just do it! This is not so much about a kindness but simply a recognition – that person serving you is a person with a name. Sure they are doing their job and getting recompensed for it but by just going that small extra step to call them by name, to thank them and to engage in conversation, however small, makes a difference.
And that is what a RAK does it makes MAD! It Makes a Difference! The gift of a RAK is within. It becomes an awareness within you. You become OTHER AWARE. You become GIVING AWARE, and is so often the case, this gifts you. You become more grateful, you become more appreciative, you become more aware of the little things that people do for you. And the act is so random; sure you may occasionally deliberately plan a RAK but most often they just happen – they just flow from WHO you are.
RAK people are humble people. You won’t find them sitting at home each night patting themselves on the back and recording or recalling the long list of RAKS that filled their day. Most probably they have already forgotten about them, they would even struggle to recall doing them. It is NOT about them. It is NOT even about the act of kindness – it is just a small act – that gives and gives freely. In no way is a RAK condescending, in fact the very opposite.
We are all called to be RAK people. And true RAKS know no boundaries of ethnicity or religion or social class.
As children we were taught at home and at school the ABC of etiquette; to stand when a lady entered a room, to give up one’s seat for an adult, to say please and thank you, to not begin eating until all had their meals etc. No big deal, no massive thing – just do it! The mindset of RAKS often begins early in life but can be learned at any time – it is probably one of the best things a parent can do for their children, to grow their appreciation of all that is done or given for and to them and invite them to respond with kindness and gratitude – and in small unseen acts!
RAKS don’t have to be big things – in fact so often they are the small random things that make the difference. Have you ever had that unexpected phone call from a friend – who wanted nothing other than to say “Hi, how are you?” Have you ever discovered an anonymous note under your door thanking you for something that you did? Have you ever received a gift – however small – from someone and to this day do not know who it is from? All of these small acts are gifts and make the world the kind of place it could and should be.
My wonderful father died when I was 17. I don’t remember too many things he said – I do remember a lot of things he did. But one thing he used to say to me was, “Damien, friends don’t owe!” In our small town of Proserpine, dad was one of the key men at the local St Vincent de Paul conference – as such he was charged with giving out meal tickets to any homeless person around the town or a ‘tramp’ passing through. They would come to my father’s shop and I can clearly remember dad making them welcome; as if some nobleman or important government official had just waltzed in. The respect with which dad treated the stranger made a deep impression upon me. Dad’s whole life was full of RAKS.
RAKS – random acts of kindness – is a mindset, a way of looking at the world. You want to give – for no particular reason and do so with great freedom – the beautiful freedom of not wanting anything in return. The power of a RAKS is its randomness – it is unplanned, it is unpredictable, it is unexpected, it surprises, it comes from left field and in so doing it gifts hope.
RAKS gift and give and the giving often knows no boundary. I am forever surprised by the effect of something minor as when a car lets you in to a line of cars on a busy street. I live fifty meters from a busy road and often of a morning when I drive to work there is a huge line of traffic all waiting for the lights to change to green – many wanting to turn at the intersection to go to the airport. I have lost count of the number of times I have been waved across both lanes of traffic to that busy airport lane. Those drivers did not have to do it – they just did – and often it gifts me with a more hope filled, positive start to a busy day.
At this time on planet Earth I believe we are called to RAK Mother Earth as well. The Earth is so kind to us. Earth gifts us with fresh air, beautiful drinking water, beauty in sunrise or sunset that takes our breath away and food that strengthens and we can savour and enjoy. Can we regularly gift Earth with our RAKS? Can we compost, recycle, garden sustainably, use public transport and most of all as Ghandi so often reminded us;
“Live simply so that others may simply live!”
One of the hardest forms of RAKS is to be kind to yourself. Sometimes when I have been working really hard or am proud of something I have done – achieved, a goal met etc – I will RAK myself with a coffee, a beer, a walk in a beautiful spot, a sleep in or simply an inner hug!
You don’t go looking for them – but when you are the recipient or giver of RAKS you suddenly grow clearer eyes – you begin to see beauty where you did not see it before, you begin to ‘expect’ good things to happen, you begin to look for the good in people – and you begin to find it! So RAKS are bearers of hope and givers of joy. This week can you, can I be such bearers – through small, anonymous, random – acts of kindness!
What Random Act of Kindness can I do for myself in the coming week?
What Random Act of Kindness can I do for the Earth this coming week?
What small, simple, anonymous act of kindness can I do for another this coming week?