I wanted to buy a stranger a juice…

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I’m studying Positive Psychology, and as part of one of our assignments, we were given the task of undertaking five random acts of kindness in one day. We then had to report back on our experience in 500 words. I ended up writing almost 1000 words, I hope they don’t mind!

I love doing random acts of kindness, I do prefer them to be spontaneous and heartfelt, so at first I was challenged with the idea of it being somewhat more forced/staged than usual, but I was looking forward to the task.

Now it sounds easy, to do five random acts, but it proved to be more difficult than I had anticipated. To be honest I would have preferred to actually undertake acts, rather than do things where spending money was concerned. Not that I mind spending money, but the idea of giving my energy, time and being of service is much more appealing to me. I probably should have planned it better if I wanted it to be that way, but I made a last minute decision that it had to be last Friday as I was working to a self imposed deadline.

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The first observation I made when it came to this task, was just how isolated we all are in our modern world. I guess I’ve always known this, as I have lived in the West for most of my 50 years on this floating round ball, and I was blessed to live in Ghana where it is quite the opposite, I also spend a lot of time in Bali which is similar to Ghana in terms of the sense of family and community. If I was still living in Ghana, or even in any community, rather than an isolated Western home, I could easily have stepped outside of my front door and undertaken multiple acts of kindness without needing to exchange money or goods. Real acts, real service, real compassion for real people.

Don’t get me wrong here, a balance in everything is a great thing. There are certain advantages to community life, but as a Westerner I found much of it quite challenging – another post for another day. However most people find our way of life quite lonely and isolated. Last Friday I would have to agree.

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Given our living arrangement and the lack of people in my immediate vicinity to undertake random acts to, I headed out to our local Westfield shopping centre to see what I could accomplish. I tried the simple things first, like making eye contact and smiling, trying to balance this without looking maniacal proved interesting. I also thought I could throw a few compliments around at the same time. Interestingly, making eye contact with random strangers proved incredibly difficult. The only ones who seemed happy to have this interaction were those working in stores, and they obviously had a vested interest in making contact.

After some time, I decided that I would try to buy a random stranger a Boost juice, as I wanted one myself. For the first time – ever, there was no queue. I was talking to the girl serving me explaining that I wanted to shout a stranger a juice, when a man approached to queue behind me. I turned to him and asked what he was having, as I was buying, and his reaction was priceless. He took a step back and then leaned right back away from me with the top half of his body. He didn’t know what to say, how to respond and what to do next. He looked confused, suspicious and incredibly surprised and awkward. I swear he was also looking for cameras in case it was some kind of joke. I persisted, although I didn’t want to tell him why I was buying, I just said I felt like doing an act of kindness. After much persuasion, he reluctantly told me what he was ordering. I felt it was a sad reflection on us as a society, that an act of generosity and kindness with no expectation in return was regarded with such suspicion and awkwardness.

I would have loved to have left it at that, but as we both needed to wait, the conversation needed to happen. I explained briefly what I was doing and he said that he was from England and they don’t do nice things there, to which we both had a laugh. He was then reminded that the day before he had chosen to buy lunch for a friend, so in fact his kindness was being paid forward. After a lengthy chat while we waited, he asked me to meet his wife and explain what I was doing.

I did some other acts of kindness that day, which I don’t feel the need to mention, as I want them to be from the heart as they were intended, apart from giving another Kiva loan. I highly recommend Kiva and if you haven’t seen the wonderful work they do in the world of micro-finance for developing communities, check them out here.

I would like to encourage you to do one act of kindness today. It doesn’t have to be big or expensive, in fact here are some simple suggestions to get you thinking.

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Random acts of kindness are wonderful things, and I plan to continue to do them when the feeling arises, but maybe more frequently than before. The world would be a much better place if we were all to step out of our comfort zone now and again and do something selfless for others, without any expectation in return.

Give it a try, you’ve got nothing to lose, and everything to give.

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