Compounding kindness

SHE smiles at strangers, she praises the efforts and kindness of others, she visits or phones family members or friends when she wouldn’t otherwise, and, as she puts it, guess what, the love comes right back! This is part of a friend’s remedy when she feels the black dog creeping closer, and she told me of it when I asked early this week about her depression as I prepared to write about my own fleeting vision of a black dog in the distance.

It is such a simple thing, almost too simple to dwell on, but I did. And when I asked myself yesterday, as a personal protest, why I was so ungenerous with a fellow I know my friend’s words returned. And I realised that I am mean to this fellow because he is mean, and he’s not just a bit tight.

With friends who are generous I am generous, or at least not mean, and that is my natural inclination. It is not a matter of tit for tat, not a balancing of the books, and my stinginess with my notoriously stingy friend came about over quite a long time. He won’t recognise himself here, by the way, because he would not accept that he is even parsimonious.

This likelihood of our behaviour being reflected applies in so many ways. Raise your voice and your target raises his or her voice, and I see that, you see that, so often. Abuse someone and you are likely to be abused. And I’m reminded of a fellow I know, a bikie, who is coated in tattoos that may be offensive and well versed in foul language. I had to reach for support to steady myself when he told me a year ago he’d learnt that he could more easily resolve problems with people if he didn’t swear!

I have often told my children that the best way to make friends, perhaps the only way, is to be friendly, and I’m always a little surprised that I would bother stating such an obvious truism. Friendliness begets friendliness as sure as hostility begets hostility. Another of my little dictums I’ve been prone to sharing with my children is that if you speak badly of people, people will speak badly of you. And, a variation, that you can be sure a person who speaks badly of others to you will speak badly of you to others.

Negativity has an interesting ambience. Negativity breeds negativity, a result seen so often in workplaces where it hangs like a cloud and where, in my experience, the source is sometimes just one person. While positivity is rewarded with positivity, I suspect negativity is the more powerful influence.

Fortunately, as my friend says, love comes back, and I think it is the strongest influence, the most reliable crop. With love she covers kindness, caring, a generous spirit, even a smile for strangers, and she describes all these as random acts of kindness. ‘‘The love comes right back at you,’’ she wrote. ‘‘The sunshine warms your face, and the friends and family and strangers warm your soul.’’

There is, I believe, a wider benefit than the direct return on your random acts of kindness, and that is a general increase in the level of kindness in the community. And a persistent increase, if my experiences are a fair guide.

I have sought to reflect one act of kindness for more than 45 years. When I was about 14 my old dog wandered from our Adamstown home and became lost, and a week later a Mayfield woman checked the Lost and Found classies in this paper when she saw an old dog leaning against her front fence. She did more for me than she could imagine when she brought the dog home, and I’ve been inspired since to try to find the owners of lost dogs. I do so about once a year.

A more recent act of kindness springs to mind when I’m in a position to help someone. Eight years ago when an operation failed to remove throat cancer and things were at a low pass, a Sydney specialist I’d asked for a second opinion, quickly, met my wife and me at his surgery at 7am, well before his normal start, and spent an hour working through my options. It was selfless, and I remind myself of that when the need, someone else’s need, arises.

Compounding random acts of kindness.

Has your life been changed by random acts of kindness? Do you sprinkle such acts around your life?

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