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The Random Acts of Kindness Project

Posted: 07/22/2011 9:23 am

In this era of unprecedented cynicism and doomsday scenarios in politics and the media, it's easy to believe that we live in a world charged with negativity. Call me naïve, but I've seen far too much goodness in my short time on this Earth to believe that that is the truth. Observing the good that people do in their everyday lives provides an undeniable source of reassurance in our faith in our fellow man. Allow me to illustrate.

Three stories of random acts of kindness stand out in my memory. None of the protagonists are exceptionally heroic; they could be any of us. But each of these stories demonstrates the impact of human kindness.

The first story took place many years ago as I was walking home from high school with half a dozen friends, fresh off our last day of exams and free for the winter holiday. Passing by a cemetery on the route home, we noticed an empty paper coffee cup lying in the frozen grass in front of a gravestone. We all saw the litter and noted it with regret but kept walking, focused on the celebration ahead. A few steps later, however, we noticed that one member of our group, Justin, had disappeared. We looked back to see him run toward to the graveyard, hop the fence, pick up the coffee cup, and throw it away in the trash can on the street corner.

Last year, my girlfriend was rushing to a job interview in downtown Washington, D.C. after her flight into BWI Airport arrived late. Desperate to find the bus connection to the D.C. Metro, she approached an older man at a tourist information desk for help. "The bus stops just outside the far end of the baggage claim. A ticket is $6, cash only," he explained. Of course, she didn't have cash on her and began frantically searching for the nearest ATM. "Don't go there -- you'll miss it. Here, here's $6," said the man as he opened his wallet and handed her the cash. She tried to refuse, but he insisted, and because of him, she made it to her interview on time.

Just a few mornings ago, I was hustling through the crowds on the streets of Manhattan, rushing to make it to work by 9 a.m. Up the street, a produce vendor was unloading his truck full of fruits and vegetables, evidence of many hours of labor already accomplished that day. Just as he was loading another bag, it ripped open, spilling produce onto the street. Despite the temptation to ignore it and get to work on time, two well-dressed men instinctively stopped, bent over and helped the vendor collect the produce. The man appeared extremely grateful, if surprised by the help.

These random acts of kindness are small -- a split-second decision, a few moments taken out of someone's day to assist another at little cost to himself or herself. But the satisfaction that we feel in observing it is anything but small. I don't for one second believe that this blog post alone will cure us of the temptation to accentuate the negative, but it's a start.

This article is an experiment in the power of human kindness. I ask you to post your stories of random acts of kindness below: those you've observed, those you've heard of and those you've experienced. Let's see how many we can collect. Let's test the impact of tens or hundreds of random acts of kindness. Taking five minutes to write your story just might make someone's day -- and just might change an outlook on life.

Daniel Arrigg Koh is a 2011 graduate of Harvard Business School. He holds a B.A. in Government from Harvard College. He can be reached at dkoh@mba2011.hbs.edu.

 

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