“What’s the maximum effective range of a good deed?”
It was 4:30 in the morning. Two weary fire fighters walked into a local diner in New Jersey. Smelling of smoke and tired from battling a warehouse fire all night, they were hungry and needed a rest.
The friendly waitress brought them their breakfast, smiled, and chatted with them.
When it was time to go, they asked her for the bill. Instead, she handed them a note. It said, in part, “Your breakfast is on me today” and, “Thank you for all that you do.” She even added a colorful sketch of a fire ax and helmet.
The tired firefighters were surprised and pleased by this unexpected act of kindness. Later they posted the story to Facebook and recommend that their friends patronize the diner where the waitress worked. They wanted to pass on the feeling of goodwill that she had started.
Then they found out that the waitress was trying to raise money to buy a wheelchair-accessible van for her ailing father. Wanting to help, the firefighters followed up their post with another one describing her need.
The post was shared thousands of times. Ultimately over 1,000 people donated over $67,000 – far above the goal she had set to help her father.
It’s stories like these that show us there’s no telling how far our acts of kindness can go, or what kind of impact they can have beyond the right here-right now.
So how do we tap into the potential to do some far-reaching good?
Example is Everything
It starts with being grateful – looking for the good in the world and making a point of appreciating it. There are lots of things we can do to adopt a grateful mindset, and seeing our environment in this way can do wonders for our own health, personal relationships and even sleep quality.
But we’re missing something important if we stop there.
All that goodness has to come from somewhere. And if we want to think of ourselves as leaders and influencers, then that starting point is wherever we happen to be right now.
It’s up to us to set the example and show the way.
With that in mind, here are 21 ways to get the ball rolling. Some of these cost nothing and take only seconds to implement. Which ones will you lead off with?
21 Acts of Kindness
Start at home. What’s something your roommate or partner does that you are glad you don’t have to do? What if you did that as a surprise? Wash the dishes, clean a bathroom, do a load of laundry, take care of the shopping, prepare a meal. Give them a break as a way to express your gratitude.
Rake leaves, shovel snow. Clear a neighbor’s yard or shovel out their sidewalk. A good friend of mine has a big snow blower; on snowy mornings it’s common to see him clearing sidewalks and other people’s driveways, sometimes even before they are awake.
Thank the person with the bell. You know those people with the red kettles ringing a bell outside the grocery store? Honestly that’s not what I’m hoping to see when I’m out running errands. But pause a moment and consider – here’s a person standing out in the cold actively trying to make the world a little bit better for other people. That’s pretty cool. Offer a word of thanks, and drop your coins in – you were just going to put them in a jar anyway, and most of what you give goes to help right in your own community.
Thank a teacher. Remember that one teacher, coach, director, or youth leader back when you were growing up that made such a difference in your life? Track them down and send them a note. Tell them the positive impact they had on your life.
Bring Coffee. Or doughnuts or a veggie tray – whatever you think people might like. Quietly put it in the break room at work with a note on it for others to enjoy. Have fun listening in as others try to figure out who it was.
Leave a glowing recommendation. Too often we only give businesses our input when we are dissatisfied. Make a point to recognize great service with a positive review – fill out that little survey, or post some positive comments on their Google Map icon, and on sites like Yelp, and TripAdvisor.
Let someone cut in line. At the checkout line, is your cart full, and the person behind you has only a few items? Why not invite them to go in front of you. Acts of kindness don’t have to cost a thing.
Buy a burger for the person behind you. Whether it’s inside the restaurant or at the drive-through, give the cashier a little extra and ask them to use it towards the next person’s meal.
Pay for a meal. Traveling through the airport and see some military in uniform? Get their waiter’s attention and contribute to their bill. This has happened to me more than once. It’s hard to adequately describe the huge lift something simple like that can be, especially over the holidays.
Donate to a food pantry. Every year our Scout troop would collect non-perishable food items and bring them to a local food pantry. One year we hauled in over 2,000 food items. You can do the same – next time you go shopping, bring an extra bag, fill it up and drop it off at your local food bank. Check their site in advance – often they will list the items they need most.
Clean up a little. Go for a walk, take a garbage bag with you, and pick up/recycle any trash that you find on the ground. Wear gloves, bring some friends, and make a game of seeing who can collect the most in 15 minutes.
Give a book. Have you read a book recently that you particularly enjoyed? Know someone who would probably enjoy it too? Give it to them, with your recommendation. Maybe even write them a note inside, or mark a page or two you think they’d especially like.
Donate some toys. The Marine Corps’ Toys For Tots campaign is always a great way to help families that may be struggling. Donate new, unwrapped toys at designated locations to help brighten the holiday season.
Tip your server generously. You don’t know their story, but you can let them know you appreciate their effort. And when the manager comes by your table to ask how everything is, take the opportunity to mention your server by name and talk about how well they are doing.
Pay Someone’s Layaway. When we lived in Pennsylvania, one year an anonymous philanthropist who called himself Santa B. walked into the local Walmart, plunked down a cashier’s check for $50,000 and paid off 100 layaway accounts in an amazing show of generosity. Imagine the pleasant surprise for the families whose accounts were paid off. You can do the same. It doesn’t have to be 50 Gs worth; what if you just covered one or two families?
Use the library. When you return a book, leave a nice note or a dollar bill tucked into the pages, passing on your best wishes to the next reader.
Pack some food. At places like Feed My Starving Children, you can volunteer for a two-hour session to help package nutritious meals which are then boxed and shipped to impoverished areas around the globe. The sessions can be fun, you meet great people, and you can pack hundreds of meals in a very short time. Bring friends and make it an event.
Fight fires. The wildfires in California are the worst in memory. The sudden and total loss of a home and posessions can be heartbreaking. Imagine what that must be like. This NBC News site talks more about the devastation and suggests a few ways we can help.
Send a care package to a loved one who is out of town. Don’t wait for a birthday or special event, just send them some stuff you think they’d like, whether it’s microwave popcorn, a good book, or a $10 gift card for coffee at their favorite place. It’s when they are not expecting it that a package can have the most impact.
Support a serviceman. We have brothers and sisters serving in uniform in some pretty remote places around the globe, and many are separated temporarily from their families. Brighten their day with a card or a care package through sites like the United Services Organization (USO).
Use chalk to write out a positive message on the sidewalk or street near where you live. A while back, my neighbor’s kid wrote “I love you Mommy” in colorful chalk on their driveway, and added a big heart. I’m sure it made her mom smile. It’s quite possible it made me smile, too.
Acts of Kindness – The Takeaway
When my kids were younger we had a game we would sometimes play. We called it “Do Unto Others, Then Split.” We’d look for a way to help someone out in some way without them knowing who it was. If successful, we’d grin, give each other a high-five, and then maybe get a cocoa somewhere to celebrate.
It feels good to do something nice, and it feels even better to do it with someone else. And we had fun imagining the recipient’s surprise to discover our actions without knowing who had done it.
And who knows – maybe they would feel impelled to do something nice for someone else, too. As with the waitress in that diner in New Jersey, there’s no telling how far a simple act of kindness can go, or the good it can bring.
The thing is, these acts of kindness have to start somewhere, with someone.
Why not us? And why not now?