Growing up, my parents always tried to instill good values in me. By their example, I learned that it was important to be giving of my resources. I've always done my best to continue their example in my own life. But, I don't think that I realized the full potential of small, random acts of kindness until a few years ago.
I didn't expect to encounter a life-changing event in the dollar store, but that's exactly what happened to me.
Back when my husband wasn't my husband and we were just two smitten college kids, he accompanied me on a trip to the dollar store to pick up a few things.
On the way there, I had been complaining about my car — my car, which worked just fine, was in good shape and had absolutely nothing wrong with it. I wanted a new one. I didn't need a new one. I couldn't afford a new one. But, boy did I want one, for no particular reason other than to have something new.
When we got there, I told him that I'd just run in and be back in a flash. So, he waited in the car and I quickly scooped the few things that I needed into my basket.
The older man ahead of me in the check-out line only had a few things, too. But, when the cashier told him his total, he realized that he didn't have enough money and had to give her back a few things. This wasn't a case of someone forgetting their money at home or losing their wallet. You could tell that he just didn't have it. Plain and simple. And this wasn't a spending spree. He had to forgo essentials like a stick of deodorant and a tube of toothpaste.
At that point, I felt like someone had socked me in the gut. Here I was complaining that I couldn't have a new car and this guy couldn't even afford toiletries. I felt embarrassed. I felt vain. I felt ridiculous.
After he had finished checking out, I paid for my items and asked the cashier if she could bag up the items that he had left behind. She seemed surprised, but went ahead with it. And with a quick swipe of my card, I gathered up my bags and headed for the door. The man was waiting by the exit for someone that he had come in with. I walked up to him and handed him the bag.
"What's this?" he asked in a confused tone.
I told him that they were the things he had to leave behind, flashed a quick smile and said, “Have a nice day!”
I was going to leave it at that, but he stopped me before I could.
"Can I just give you a hug?" he asked me.
He was so grateful. I could see it in his watery eyes. He didn't have anything to give me, anything to pay me back with, but he offered up all he could: genuine thanks and appreciation. I walked out of the store and back to my car...that car. The car that wasn't good enough 10 minutes ago was suddenly more than enough, more than I deserved.
And I sat at my steering wheel and cried.
Needless to say, my future husband was a little taken aback. When he asked me what was wrong, I told him the story and he did his best to comfort me, but it was of no use. That 30-second exchange in the dollar store had completely shaken my world. I mean, it really affected me. It made me open my eyes. It made me want to give more of myself. It made me want to change.
Since then, I have tried to be more giving. But, until recently, I hadn't made an effort to think about everyday giving.
In late 2007, I decided to commit myself to doing at least one act of kindness every single day for an entire year. To hold myself accountable, I started a blog, everydaygiving.blogspot.com. I set a goal for myself and I wanted to do ensure that I would reach it. The blog (and its readers) helped me to do just that, and in December of last year, I completed 365 days of kindness.
It might sound like a lot, but it can actually be pretty simple to incorporate small acts of kindness into the everyday. Just make an effort to think of others more.
Be giving of your time:
Bake someone cookies.
Write an encouraging note to a friend.
Help someone load groceries in their car.
Volunteer at a soup kitchen.
Be giving of your resources:
But, in general, just be giving.
Give what you can, when you can, where you can, and you can have a positive effect on the world around you.
Jen Stout graduated from Olivet in 2007 with a B.A. in English. She lives in Manteno with her husband, Nate ’07, and their two puppies, Peanut & Wrigley – who was the recipient of one of her AOKs. Read more about her year of giving at everydaygiving.blogspot.com.