It’s no secret that these days people are a little … uppity. Whereas before differences of opinion made for interesting table conversation, expressing an opposing viewpoint can now act as a battlecry for social warfare. Death by poorly punctuated angry comments, anyone?
What are we really doing here, though? What’s at the core of all this fighting? In our hearts, we all feel passion for things we care about deeply, and that passion can be a force for bonding when we put aside the superficial differences and focus on finding common ground.
Friday, February 17th is International Random Acts of Kindness Day, and it seems that the world can use kindness this year more than ever. So many of us are exhausted from the turmoil and want nothing more than to see some good in the world. Yet when a wound has become infected, a healer must first draw the poison to the surface before true healing can begin. Perhaps the division that has now been highlighted in our world is part of this process, and it’s going to take a dedicated effort to transmute these rifts, to open bridges of communication and respond to one another’s needs.
So, from spreading kindness in the realms of politics and religion to just good old fashioned being a loving person in the world, here are 7 Random Acts of Kindness that can help heal a divided world.
1. Send a Cake to the Local Headquarters for Your Party’s Opposition
Political tensions are at an all-time high all over the world. What many fail to realize is that the tension between opposing parties is actually pretty good for the functioning of a healthy democracy. Opposing viewpoints provide a catalyst for dynamic conversation around the issues that affect everyone, and they also ensure that no one point of view or area of need takes precedent over the needs of the majority. Or at least, that’s how opposition should function within a democracy.
The reality is that the proliferation of identity politics and deeply held beliefs have created some very deep divides between people who would otherwise share a national or cultural heritage. People are more likely now to resort to extreme tribalism when choosing a side, rather than addressing each problem on an issue-by-issue basis. What this means is that politics devolve into a series of petty screaming matches. Each side simply wants to win and prove the other side wrong, and nothing productive ever gets done.
Fortunately, there is hope. With a dedicated effort, people can foster good will between themselves and those who disagree with them. Random acts of kindness are a great way to break down the walls that prevent communication from happening, and to remind one another that we are all humans sharing the same planet.
One idea is to send a cake to the local headquarters for your party’s opposition. Include a little love note along with the cake stating that you’re from the opposition party, that you understand you have your differences, but that you hope you can find common ground and work together on issues that affect everyone. The more personal you can make your note, the better. Remind your recipients that you are a living, breathing human who is a neighbor within your shared community, and that like them, you are simply trying to do what you feel is best. Try not to use the opportunity to open up an ideological debate, but just be kind, be personable, wish them well, and leave it at that. Let the magic of yummy cake and kind words do the rest.
As a side note, even if you are not a member of a political party, you can still participate in this exercise. In fact, you might be the best one for this random act of kindness if you are more detached from the dispute. There is absolutely nothing wrong with a little bit of well-intentioned trickery, as long as you’re not posing as an official representative of a party.
I had two best friends once who had a terrible falling out. The rift was so bad that the pair did not speak for over a year. For those of us in our social group, this made things very awkward when trying to decide which one to invite to certain events. Finally, I decided to foster a contrived truce. Knowing that both friends were compassionate people whose egos were perhaps a bit caught up in their reluctance to be the first to apologize, I first went to one and then the other. I told them both the same thing: the estranged friend had expressed that she missed the other, and that she regretted the rift that had kept them apart.
As soon as my friends believed that the other missed her and wanted to be reunited, the other was able to acknowledge that her own feelings were the same. Very soon after that, we all had dinner together, and the pair quickly made up. In fact, they got along so well their second time around that a few weeks later they decided to become roommates!
So, even if you are still too upset with the opposition to feel genuine good will, or are not even a member of a political party, you can be an instrument of peace if you remember that you’re dealing with other human beings and apply a little kindness in the right direction. Fake it ‘til you make it, as long as you can put on a nice smile when you get there.
2. Send Flowers to a Religious Institution of a Different Faith
Just as politics are a source of a lot of tension in the world today, so, too, are religious beliefs wreaking their fair share of havoc on the Earth. I’m not going to point fingers or name names, but some religions are creating a bit more of the chaos these days than others, because they don’t want to just play nice and share the planet like the rest of us… That was a joke; please don’t kill me.
Everyone has some sort of religious belief, even if their belief is that religion is … misguided. And every religious belief system has positive aspects and negative or destructive aspects. This means that everyone gets to participate in this one.
So, why do we have religions, or spiritual/scientific outlooks? For one thing, we’re all looking for some sort of universal truth. For another thing, humans crave moral and ethical guidance. We want to get along. We just can’t seem to agree on what that exactly looks like.
However, being kind to others is generally something that everyone can get behind (or that everyone should get behind, if they’re really following the uncorrupted messages in their spiritual discipline). One of the best ways to be kind to others is to practice tolerance for people and ideas that are different from you and yours. This isn’t just about getting some warm fuzzies—tolerance actually creates a more harmonious planet, which increases our prospects of survival as a species. We can be as real as you want about this. Although, warm fuzzies are great too. 🙂
It’s easy to be afraid of or hold contempt for religions and belief systems when we encounter an idea we don’t agree with, but it’s much harder to hold that same hostility when faced with an actual human who holds the beliefs we disagree with. The problem is that we tend to surround ourselves with people who do agree with us, which means that we limit our opportunities to interact with people who are different. And it’s a lot harder to hate our next-door neighbors who smile and wave at us everyday than it is to hate people who live on the other side of the world and only show up in news clips on our TV, isn’t it?
Luckily, you actually are neighbors with someone who is different from you. I know, try to pick your jaw up from the floor. In your community right now, or even in the next town over, there is a religious institution of some sort, a church, temple, mosque, or atheist meetup, that holds different views from your own.
For this random act of kindness, you can send flowers to one or more of these different groups with another little love note. Explain who you are, what your beliefs are, and that as a neighbor, you feel that religious tolerance is important. You are happy to grant that open-mindedness to others, and you hope that you will receive the same in return. Love, kindness, and well wishes.
Remember that love is at the heart of every religion. Unfortunately, people too often give into the temptation to project onto an entire group of people the actions of a few individuals. However, you can use this tendency in humans to do enormous good by choosing to be one of the individuals who represents a group as one of love, compassion, tolerance, and kindness.
3. Buy a Coffee for the Person in Line Behind You with a Little Note Introducing Yourself
This random act of kindness is a classic, but here it has a twist. While much of the power of RAsOK come from the anonymity of the individual who bestows them, the objective of the acts in this blog post is to heal a divided world. This means building community, which requires that we overcome the anonymity between strangers and actually >gulp< get to know one another.
Unlike our two previous acts, you don’t have to identify with any sort of group or ideology in this exercise if you don’t want to. You can simply write a little note about yourself, giving your first name, approximate age, what you do for a living, how long you’ve been in the area, and some general well wishes.
In this note, it would be a great idea to mention that it’s International Random Acts of Kindness Day, and that you wanted to do something nice for someone in your community. This will help raise awareness about the day, and perhaps inspire that individual to also go out and do something nice for someone. Then, at the end of the day as you’re reviewing your accomplishments, you can just go right ahead and check “began a movement” off your list.
4. Leave Love Notes … Everywhere
With this RAOK, the bigger you go, the better—which also makes it an ideal activity for a group.
You know how when you first fall in love with someone, you get so dang gushy that you just want to tell them how you feel over and over and over, and then you want to let the whole world know it too? Well, what if we made everyone feel like the object of our new affections?
For this random act of kindness, you’re going to need a lot of paper and a lot of love. Write or print out a bunch of love notes, letting people know that no matter who they are, what they look like or believe in, they are a beautiful part of your community and you love and accept them. You can also wish them a happy International Random Acts of Kindness Day, and encourage them to go do something nice for a stranger.
Then, all you have to do is distribute your notes … everywhere. Go to the grocery store and stick them between the oranges, in the aisles by the soup cans, on top of ice cream containers in the frozen section. Love bomb the sh*t out of that place.
If you go to a restaurant, stick some of your notes between the packets of sugar in the holder on the table. Make sure the paper is colored so it doesn’t just blend in with the packets. Bonus points if you’re a server and can wrap love notes in with your silverware and napkins, or if you work retail and can stick them inside of plastic bags and send them home with customers.
Car windshields are a good place too, but a note of caution here. Doing this isn’t exactly legal. In fact, you might get kicked out of places if they see you dropping your little love notes everywhere. So, you’ll need to channel your inner rebel for this civil disobedience, but be discreet and do it in the name of love. Leading by example when it comes to shaking things up and breaking the status quo is a crucial part of busting barriers that create the division we see in the world today. Not only that, but brightening people’s days and spreading love in the world to counter all the hate and negativity is well worth the risk.
5. Give Compliments to Strangers Who Look Different From You
One of the biggest barriers between people is simply not knowing how to talk to people who are different. Some hostilities run so deep that conversation can be hard to initiate. But that’s what compliments are for.
While everyone loves to receive compliments, kind words can mean the world to those who are marginalized and may not feel like they belong. By extending kindness to people who look different from you, you signal to that person and others that there is value in accepting and celebrating differences.
You can certainly give compliments to people who more closely resemble you as well. All this RAOK suggests is that you put in a special effort to build bridges between people from different cultures by initiating communication and kindness with those outside of your normal group.
6. Do Something Kind for Someone You Don’t Get Along With
So, be honest. No matter where you work, go to school, attend church, shop, etc., there’s someone you don’t exactly get along with very well, isn’t there? Even if everything looks good on the surface, there’s someone who either rubs you the wrong way or whom you rub the wrong way.
Well, now is a great time to put those feelings aside and do something kind for that person…or those people, if you’re especially popular. Be direct if it’s appropriate, and bring a treat that you know your rival/hater/person-you-just-can’t-seem-to-communicate-effectively-with likes, or simply say a kind word. If there’s open hostility, subtlety is the best way. For example, if you have a coworker that you’re feuding with, rather than make a big flamboyant gesture that will surely be interpreted as an attempt to one-up the other with kindness, you can bring cookies into the office and make a point to let your coworker know that they are available for everyone.
If you’ve had a falling out with someone, you can send a nice letter expressing that you hope that person is doing well. If you feel that you owe that person an apology, you can express one if you’re ready. If you’ve been waiting on an apology that you never received, you can express forgiveness if you feel it’s appropriate and can do so without being self-righteous. Keep in mind here, however, that if you’ve intentionally closed a door on someone who has been a toxic or negative influence in your life, it may be best for your own good to just keep that door firmly closed. Use your best judgment when deciding whom to reach out to.
However, if someone is actively in your life, it is always best to get along when you can. Don’t be discouraged if your kindness doesn’t produce any immediate effects, but allow the medicine to work its healing in its own time. Focus on the benefits you receive by being kind, the love you hope will touch the other person’s heart, and release any attachment you might feel to your need to see results.
7. Invite a “Stranger” Out to Lunch
In the course of our lives, we all have people that we see on a regular basis but never initiate conversation with. These may be people in our office building, in our neighborhood or complex, in our classes, at the shops we frequent, etc. They’re not exactly strangers, but they’re not friends or acquaintances either.
This RAOK really invites you to step outside of your comfort zone, because you’re going to be risking possible rejection. Believe it or not, that’s actually a good thing. Tons of the barriers we put between ourselves and others stem from this fear of rejection, but when we challenge these comfort zones and intentionally confront the fear of rejection, we begin to free ourselves to do amazing things.
To help initiate your invitation, you can mention that it’s International Random Acts of Kindness Day and that you want to build relationships with the people around you to help combat some of the division in the world, so can you kindly buy your new acquaintance lunch? They might find it an odd request and will possibly even turn you down, but that’s okay. For one thing, you will have confronted the worst fear and can move on until you find someone who will accept. For another, you will have planted a seed of awareness in that person’s mind about the importance of concepts like community and kindness between strangers.
On the positive side, the person might accept and the two of you can go out and get to know one another better. Your new acquaintance will surely be flattered at having received an invitation to lunch and will feel that his or her company is desirable, which is great for boosting the self-esteem of those around you. Perhaps you’ll find you have a lot in common and form a lasting friendship from there, or perhaps you’ll simply have friendlier encounters when you run into one another as you both go about your lives. Either way, you’ll have succeeded in putting a little more kindness into the world.
So whether you get someone to come to lunch with you or not, ultimately, whatever happens, you can mark this one up as a win in your book.
While International Random Acts of Kindness Day is but one out of 365, you need not limit yourself to only spreading love and building community on one day out of the year. Any of these acts can easily be performed any time, and you can do them on your own, or you can get others to join you.
By spreading kindness, we all have the ability to combat the division that is causing very real tension in our world today. Every act of love, no matter how small, carries an immeasurable ripple effect that will grow and touch the whole world. Each of us has it within us to start such a ripple, and together they will build into waves.
Never doubt your power to change things. The world is waiting to return your love.
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She graduated from the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs in 2012 with a Bachelor of Arts in English with a Creative Writing minor. She currently resides on Planet Earth, and therefore has a vested interest in the goings-on and goings-to-be around the place.
She's also really friendly, so feel free to drop a line: Jacquelyn@radicallyenlightened.com.
Latest posts by Jacquelyn Othon (see all)
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