The national political atmosphere is toxic. Does it seem that people are a little more on edge, angrier and less generous? Or at least, when watching the news about the presidential election, aren’t you left with that feeling? That’s why I want to share two stories about unexpected kindness. Despite the way it may feel, I still generally believe that people are good and decent.
On Friday, I drove to my optician to pick up a new pair of glasses. Near the entrance to the office, there was an older gentleman in front of me and I raced ahead so that I could open the door for him. He refused to let me do so, explaining, “I decided that from now on, every day, I want to do something nice for a stranger.” I thanked him for his act of kindness and for taking the time to explain his motivation.
A little while later, I left my office to meet with a friend of mine who was helping with some repairs. I promised that I would return with a cup of decaf coffee, as I didn’t have any at home. I learned that the cafeteria in my office building doesn’t sell decaf, so I made a quick detour to a nearby Panera Bread restaurant. As I reached for my wallet, the person working behind the counter said, “It’s free.” A number of family members and friends have suggested (not so subtly) that I should have my hearing tested. Thinking that I misheard her, I continued to reach for my wallet. She said again, “It’s free. It’s on the house today.” I asked her why, and she said, “Because I decided that it is.” I thanked her and then decided that after having been “kinded” spontaneously twice, it was a reminder to me that we have the power in our own hands, right now, to freely perform spontaneous acts of kindness, which are especially precious at this time in our history.
Never underestimate the value of an intentionally kind act, no matter how large or small. That is one Talmudic teaching that I learned in rabbinical school that I’ve tried to keep in mind throughout the years. “Our Rabbis taught: A person should always regard himself as if he or she were half guilty and half meritorious. If that person performs one mitzvah, how wonderful it is, for that individual has tipped the scale to the side of merit. But woe to the person who commits one transgression for tipping the scale to side of guilt…” By this logic, another rabbi continues, “Since the world is judged by its majority, and an individual is also judged by the majority of actions (good or bad) if that person performs one good deed, happy is that person for tilting the scale both personally and for the whole world on the side of merit” (Kiddushin 40b).
I’m making a pledge to perform one act of spontaneous kindness everyday to a stranger between now and the end of election season. Small acts of kindness can have large multiplier effects-something that the two individuals whom I encountered on Friday reminded me about. Will you join me in doing so?