On Martin Luther King Day, Monday, January 19th, President-elect Obama has encouraged all Americans to participate in some type of service in their community. To facilitate that, the Inaugural Committee has set up another of their great websites, Usaservice.org , with an easy to use sign-up page where you can find events in your town or even create your own. Former Secretary of State Colin Powell held a press conference Friday to promote this idea (although with all the economic news and the Blago stuff, it was barely noted in the media).
There will be those, like me, who can't or don't get connected with local events. And we may even feel a bit guilty about that. What to do?
I was thinking of that term random acts of kindness and senseless beauty, first coined over 25 years ago, supposedly by a peace activist Anne Herbert (says Wikipedia ). As first applied, people would pass through toll stations and literally pay it forward--leaving money for tolls for people in cars behind them. Over the years, the term was expanded and used by popular media and on radio stations to encourage anonymous kind acts on Mondays or Fridays. In 2006, a Free Hugs Campaign was made popular by a music video on YouTube. There was even a Random Acts of Kindness foundation set up in 1995 (whose website still promotes a RAK week this year Feb 9-15 but whose URLs don't always work... -- try it anyway).
So how is that service or paying it forward? Well the way I see it, if you can't get connected with something organized Monday, January 19th, you could still have an impact by your individual actions. You know that phrase, "what if we gave a war and nobody came?" How about, "what if we practiced random acts of service one day and everyone came?" For one day, think of the opportunities for kindness that require no registration or money. We all do things for people we know, but the genius of this idea is that it is service and kindness to strangers, with no expectation of return. For example:
1) Offer to shovel the snow off the driveway of someone you don't know (this could also be raking leaves in places where leaves still exist)
2) Stop at that nursing home or assisted living facility you pass by every day and never enter - bring some cookies to share or a newspaper. Talk to a few people.
3) Let people cut in line in front of you (they do anyway, but this time don't curse them). That could also apply to driving. Let those who you would regard as jerks on some other day, cut in front of you so they gain one more minute on their commute. Smile and wave.
4) Pay the tolls for the car behind you on the bridge (or the coffee of the person in line behind you at Starbucks or McDonalds)
5) Pick up trash on your street or road. Dispose of it responsibly.
6) Give some positive feedback to someone you meet on Monday who does their job well - like the customer service person who keeps you on hold for only 5 minutes instead of 20; the waiter or waitress who actually remembers to bring the water or extra bread you asked for; the receptionist in the doctor's office who looks up when you come in within 10 minutes of your standing at the desk. Seriously--if one of those people does try, you could even hug them, although that could seriously freak them out.
7) Help amuse that mother with very tired child in the checkout line in front of you by making funny faces and singing something silly. If the store security person doesn't escort you out, the kid might, but the mother will appreciate the distraction.
8) Find a dejected Republican and say something hopeful and nice to them.
9) Make some food for a stranger - this one is tricky because people don't always trust food from strangers, and even cookies from a stranger can be unnerving (witness the cookies given to the journalists in Hawaii who were covering Obama only to find a cockroach in the bottom of the bag...true).
10) Smile goofily all day long. It will definitely throw people off, but it will make YOU feel great.
You get the idea. Try this out And send me your ideas. We could all use a little more kindness and a lot more senseless beauty.