By now you’ve no doubt heard about Ann Curry’s response to the horrific shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. Curry found herself asking the same question many of us have asked, “What can I do?” and responded by challenging her followers on Twitter to commit to 20 “random acts of kindness,” one for each of the children killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Her appeal ended with the challenge, “Are you in?” The response was overwhelming: “Yes, I’m in!” people tweeted, with the hashtag #26acts. The campaign quickly went viral on social media, and the number expanded to 26 acts of kindness in honor of all who were killed at Sandy Hook.
Anne Curry is best known as the co-anchor of NBC’s Today Show where she reported the news for more than ten years. But she is also widely known for her passionate reporting from trouble spots like Baghdad, Sri Lanka, Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Albania, and Darfur. Ann was also the first network news anchor to report from inside the Southeast Asian tsunami zone in late 2004, sharing firsthand her account of the loss of life and the stories of orphaned children that the natural disaster left behind.
Curry has also been an active volunteer and supporter of charitable organizations throughout her life and career, including among others the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation, the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, Americares, Save the Children and Médecins Sans Frontières.
So it was not at all out of character for her to suggest that ordinary citizens step forward and join her in volunteering to honor the memory of those who lost their lives in Newton by committing simple acts of kindness this holiday season.
And respond they did. Twitter erupted with folk all over the country, even all over the world, tweeting their random acts, often with photos documenting their kindness, often very creative and original.
People everywhere were buying gift cards from Starbucks and elsewhere and distributing them to random strangers and the homeless. Others took pizza or donuts to their local firehouse or police station. Some fed the parking meter for total strangers; others paid bus fare for 26 random strangers. Not every act of kindness required spending money, as people did simple acts like walking the neighbor’s dog or shoveling show. Children got involved, with some kids emptying their piggy bank to buy food for someone in need or volunteering to feed the neighbor’s cat.
By any measure the campaign was a rousing success, allowing thousands of people to participate by showing their care and concern for their neighbors as well as the children of Sandy Hook.
Some completed their 26 acts of kindness all at once, like the woman who paid the bus fare for 26 people as they boarded a busy commuter bus in the morning. Others took their time finding people in need and distributed their kindness over the course of the holidays
But now those acts of kindness have been completed. The campaign is over. And I find myself asking, as Ann Curry did, “What can we do NOW?” And my answer is obvious: we can continue committing at least one random act of kindness every day throughout the coming new year.
365 Acts of Kindness.
And to make it even more transformational, each of the random acts of kindness can be viewed as a form of “spiritual practice,” with each act of kindness being committed consciously, with thought given to their ripple effect, and with the understanding that by repeating the practice daily it would begin to become a pattern of thought and action. By starting each day committed to finding an opportunity to perform at least one random act of kindness during the course of the day, one would approach the ordinary day with a new perspective – a perspective of “giving” rather than merely seeking to receive. Everyday situations that would otherwise have gone unnoticed may start to be seen as new opportunities to extend a compassionate hand to a neighbor in need.
Obviously this little effort is not going to dramatically change the world. Anger and violence, pain and suffering are still going to be a part of each of our daily lives. But I have seen firsthand the benefit of daily meditation and other forms of daily spiritual practice. Each helps train the practitioner to be more aware, more mindful, to make compassion a more automatic response in every waking moment. Instead of wandering through life with blinders on, one begins to see the world with a greater vision, a renewed sense of purpose, even if the change seems at first to be very small.
A young woman who performed her 26 acts of kindness spoke to this contemplative dimension of giving in this way: “I consciously let a whole row of cars leave a parking lot while I sat there and missed my light. It may not seem like a big deal but it was a conscious choice, and I made a point to give my grandkids money to donate to a holiday bell ringer and talked with them about kindness…” Turning random acts of kindness into a conscious form of contemplation and reflection and a daily spiritual practice can transform ordinary people like you and me, even if it does not immediately appear to be transforming the world.
So my obvious suggestion as we approach the start of a new year is to resolve to commit at least one random act of kindness daily for each of the 365 days of 2013, and to do so consciously, with contemplation, with meaning and purpose, as part of a simple spiritual practice. We may not change the world, but we may transform ourselves. Are you in?
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JOHN LUNDIN (www.JohnLundin.com) is a self-described “spiritual agitator” and the author of THE NEW MANDALA – Eastern Wisdom for Western Living, written in collaboration with His Holiness the Dalai Lama.