I was thinking about what I wanted to write about this month and the phrase “random acts of kindness” kept popping into my head. I googled the phrase, and movie titles, definitions and websites listing examples of random acts of kindness popped up. When I was growing up, the idea of being nice to others and looking out for family members, friends and neighbors was not an extraordinary concept — it was just what you did.
I grew up in a small town in Kentucky and was blessed to have been raised by two wonderful, Christian, hardworking parents. I know everyone didn’t have a similar upbringing, but I do know that everyone is capable of giving to others or doing a good deed for someone else. George Eliot wrote, “You must be poor to know the luxury of giving.” St. Francis of Assiss wrote, “For it is in giving that we receive.” George Alexiou wrote, “Kindness is a currency that can cover a multitude of interpersonal debts.”
It’s interesting how the concept of “acts of kindness” means different things to different people. Whether it’s your child, spouse, family member, co-worker or neighbor, there’s always someone in need of a kind act. Here are a few examples of how a parent can demonstrate kindness to their child. Have a surprise mom-kid date. Build a tent in the middle of the living room. Bring breakfast in bed when your child is not feeling well. Praise your child for a job well done. Encourage your child when he or she did not have the outcome they hoped for at school or in a sporting event. Give your children a night off from their usual chores. Take a night off from chores yourself just to spend time with your family.
Random acts of kindness for your spouse can enhance the relationship and keep it fresh. Hide love notes where your spouse will find them, or send a “thinking of you” text message to them during their work day. Prepare your spouse’s favorite meal or dessert — and not just for a special occasion. Take over one of your spouse’s dreaded chores — maybe it’s mowing the lawn or cleaning the bathroom. Take the kids out of the house for a few hours so your spouse can enjoy some “me time.” It’s also very important to listen when your spouse wants to vent. Rather than rant about your bad day, ask him or her about their day and really listen. Make sure your spouse knows how much you appreciate what he or she does for the family.
Although we love our parents, siblings and in-laws, let’s face it — we don’t always get along. Sometimes there is tension or animosity from a past event that is difficult to let go of. To demonstrate kindness to our family members, show forgiveness for past transgressions. Forgiving them is not the same as saying what they did was right. By forgiving them, you are freeing yourself to move on and not allowing an incident or bad feelings from the past to interfere with the relationship. Be the family member to take the first step forward in communication. Call someone and ask how they are doing. Ask them to visit and prepare their favorite dessert or meal. Have a conversation with them over coffee and really listen to what they are saying. Avoid gossiping about other relatives. Small acts of kindness can go a long way in restoring or maintaining relationships with our family members.
A work place environment is always much more pleasant when people get along. It doesn’t mean we all have to be best friends, but demonstrating “random acts of kindness” goes a long way in making the group feel appreciated and part of a team. Check in with a co-worker after a project is completed and ask how it went. Volunteer to assist a co-worker with a project even if it means you have to put a couple of extra hours in to make it happen. Talk about the good things your co-worker does and let their supervisor deal with the outcomes that aren’t so good. Always speak positively about co-workers to clients and other staff members. Put a congratulations note in their mailbox when they’ve accomplished a difficult task. Give them a birthday card or email a birthday wish. Lend a sympathetic ear when they need someone to listen and avoid being judgmental. Many times, co-workers just need to vent. Give advice only if they ask for it.
Growing up, I found families living close by to be much more neighborly than they are today. This might have a lot to do with the current culture we live in — people are more cautious around others. Because we are often so busy with work and family, many times we just want to enjoy being at home by ourselves. We often don’t take the time to meet the people who live around us. However, being neighborly enhances the community you live in and makes individuals feel more connected. A simple gesture like taking a welcome gift to a family who moved into the neighborhood can be a catalyst to forging strong relationships with neighbors. Consider inviting neighbors to a gathering at your house so everyone can get to know each other. Once neighbors become connected, you’ll often find that acts of kindness follow close behind. Small acts of kindness — checking up on a sick neighbor, or picking up the mail and the trash can during your neighbor’s vacation — are always appreciated and mean a lot.
Whether the “random acts of kindness” are for someone you know or a stranger, you will receive more from giving than you do from receiving. Consider these words of wisdom: “Happiness does not result from what we get but from what we give,” by Ben Carson. “We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give,” by Winston Churchill. “You can never outgive God,” my father O’lan Layne Cheesman, who passed away Jan. 14, 2013, said.
Mary Ganzel is senior program director at the Albany Area YMCA. She has a master’s degree in exercise physiology from the University of Kentucky and has worked in the fitness industry for more than 25 years. She’s been certified through multiple national organizations over the years as a personal trainer, exercise test technologist, health promotion director, group exercise instructor, Cycle Reebok instructor and Pilates instructor through Cooper Institute, American College of Sports Medicine, American Council on Exercise, Aerobic Fitness Association of America and the Young Mens Christian Association.