In a world with a face full frustrations, we all need some daily reminders to be kind.
Just last week I was in a slightly smelly bathroom washing my hands. I turned to get some paper towels and saw kindness in the window. The longstanding Wilson hall bathroom in slow Murray Kentucky was the last place I would ever expect to be reminded to spend my day handing out kindness like exhales: something necessary for life, yet not given much thought in our own small worlds.
A few months ago when I needed some light and armchair adventure in my life, I watched a series on Netflix called “The Kindness Diaries: One Man’s Quest to Ignite and Transform Lives Around the World.” In this show series, which was later published as a memoir in October 2015, a Scottish man named Leon Logothetis traveled the world starting and ending in Los Angeles. During his travels, he relied on a yellow retro motor bike affectionately named Kindness 1 and random acts of kindness from strangers for food, shelter, and adventure. He went around the circumference of the globe sustained by generosity given in a modern world with a hard shell of egocentricity. His travels included venturing across the Atlantic on a cargo ship, experiencing a $100 dollar Turkish bath, and visiting a genocide camp called S21 in Cambodia.
Among the sobering and awe-inspiring acts of kindness, there was one story that struck me the most.
He began his social experiment in the states, home of the free and brave. The United States is certainly a blessed country, but there are still nearby neighbors held captive in poverty. Poverty takes many forms from family neglect, to third-world starvation, to marginalized citizens on the outskirts of towns and the inner-business hubs of cities. The 2015 U.S. Census reported 43.1 million people in poverty. That is 53,875 public double decker buses full of people with some sort of lack in their life. And that is just in the United States. Projections made by the World Bank Organization show 8,750,000 double decker buses full of people world-wide with lack in their life.
In the second entry of the Kindness Diaries, titled “Gift of Security,” Leon began his search for shelter in Pittsburgh with not much luck. He was led by the sound of bagpipes to a park where he met a fellow named Tony. A few minutes into the introduction, Leon asked if Tony had a couch he could crash on. To Leon’s surprise Tony revealed that he was homeless, yet he still extended an invitation for Leon to sit and eat with him. As the sun went down Tony shard what he had with Leon and provided blankets and bug spray for Leon to sleep with. They both sat outside of a rescue mission and conversed about the important things in life. Tony shared his life story involving an alcoholic father, stealing hot dogs to feed his siblings, and a bitter divorce he desired to reconcile.
This story is a reminder to be kind in unlikely places.
Tony didn’t have to be kind. He had no secure place to stay, no reliable source of food, and no job for dignity. Yet, gave what he had for the sake of kindness.
Extending extra doses of grace goes a long way, even when you feel too wounded to give. Like poverty, kindness can take many forms. It may be holding a door for someone, handing out free socks, or leaving a nice tip to a stressed-out server. It can also be something small and unnoticed and ordinary. Kindness is not an action for special occasions.
The form of kindness that leaves a lasting impact is kindness that requires the most sacrifice, having the capability to transform lives is the kindness that requires the most sacrifice. This kindness is not done for the sake your own benefit, but for the sake of the person involved.
With lives splattered in the public space of the internet, it is easy to corrupt kindness into a self-seeking action. Some people give kindness to gain cool capital. Going on a short-term mission trip to a third world country to take pictures with orphans so you can make it your profile picture is done in motivation of crafting your ego. There is now a term for this: Orphan Tourism. Making it look like you are saving the world to gain social approval is perverted kindness. It’s not our jobs to save the world either. It’s Jesus’ job and it has already been done.
“Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets that they may be praised by others…When you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.” Matthew 6:2-4 (ESV)
There is no condemnation for short term missions or pursuit of cool capital, I am guilty of this too. But, I am choosing to lay it all at Jesus’ feet and pursue kindness in unlikely places rather than in public spaces with Tony as my inspiration.
If you need some kindness inspiration, here are a few sources:
- Read Leon’s Memoir or watch his journey on Netflix
- Visit the Random Act’s of Kindness website for ideas to spread kindness and to hear more kindness stories a
- Read Shel Silverstein’s sweet children’s book The Giving Tree. This book teaches us how to give until there is nothing else to give and then give some more.
- Craigslist Joe is a similar story of kindness.
- Follow Alex and Dalton’s organization Explore Kindness on Instagram
- Soon you can help the world in your sleep at The Purpose Hotel founded by Jeremy Cowart
- For some recent thoughts on poverty in the U.S. watch Mia Birdsong’s Ted talk: “The story we tell about poverty isn’t true”
Disclaimer: I realize the irony (and maybe even hypocrisy?) of this post. I am promoting kindness in a public space…do with it what you want and spread Jesus’ love while your at it.