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Random Acts of Kindness

Random Acts of Kindness

We wouldn't advocate random acts of spending. So why treat kindness any less seriously?


"Practice Random Acts of Kindness" reads the bumper sticker. Sounds so good, so warm and cozy. But is it the right attitude?

Now what kind of Scrooge would find fault with this philosophy? Well, traditional Judaism, for one, would. Not because, as some uninformed critics would have it, the God of the "Old Testament" is a vengeful, wrathful Creator. Nothing could be further from the truth. Love and kindness are cornerstones of Judaism. Our sages teach us that the world stands on three things: on Torah, on service of God, and on acts of loving kindness (Ethics of Our Fathers, 1:2). Judaism is definitely in favor of kindness! The problem lies in the random nature the bumper sticker alludes to.

Why should our acts of compassion and caring be any more random than the other actions in our life? We wouldn't advocate random acts of spending (except perhaps at a Barney's sale!), or bring that quality of whimsy and serendipity to our workplace. So why treat kindness any less seriously?

The Torah teaches that kindness should be offered in a thoughtful and appropriate way. A trivial example may lie in gift giving. Are you taking into account the wishes of the recipient and what gives him or her pleasure; or is it all about you? This is what I would want. Isn't it nice of me to think of them?

A more significant example may be visiting the sick. Does the patient really want visitors? Are you trying to make yourself feel better by making a hospital visit, or your ill friend? If it's about you, stay home. And whatever you do, don't make it random. There's nothing like an unwanted visitor when you're feeling miserable.

What about friendships? What demands of kindness do they require? It's not always simple. What if you have a friend who constantly wants to talk about her problems? Is listening the kind thing to do? Should you help her find a solution? Or tell her, lovingly of course, that it's time to move on?

If your kindness is random you may wind up doing more harm than good.

Sometimes people need empathy; sometimes they need a kick in the pants. A practitioner of well thought out acts of kindness makes this determination. If your kindness is random you may wind up doing more harm than good.

Someone I know was having a hard time shouldering the financial responsibilities of his family. Promised funds never arrived, bills were left unpaid and tension was mounting. Desperate, he turned to his father who bailed him out with a large loan. Sounds like an act of kindness. And it's clearly not random. But possibly not well planned either. Was it really to this young man's benefit to have his father rush to his assistance? Would it teach him more responsibility in the future? Would it further his growth and deepen his marriage? Perhaps that loan actually hurt his son; perhaps it will inhibit his ability to fully stand up for himself, whatever the consequences.

Our time is limited; there are a finite number of acts of kindness that we can do in one day, in one lifetime. How do we want to approach them?

If a charitable foundation announced that it was giving away its money randomly we'd be shocked and appalled. Why should we treat our kindnesses any differently?

An act of kindness is a precious gift -- with potential to change a life. But only when it's carefully thought out with the particularly needs and sensitivities of the beneficiary in mind; not when it's random.

I'm designing a new bumper sticker: "Practice Strategically Planned and Well-Considered Acts of Kindness." Not so catchy, but ultimately more effective. Anybody want one?

December 20, 2003

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Visitor Comments: 33

(33) Anonymous, October 24, 2013 11:21 AM

Re: The father who bailed his son out financially. Asking a parent for financial help is NOT an easy thing to do. Perhaps this father gave his son a big lecture on fiscal responsibility, as the check was being written. I once knew a woman who asked her very wealthy mother for financial help, as she was having a hard time. (Believe me, the woman of whom I am speaking was not going out on wild spending sprees). The wealthy parent turned my friend down, saying: "That's not my policy, but I will get you tickets to a Broadway show." Yes, we need to use our sensitivity and good judgment before attempting to help someone else out. However, holding a door open for someone really is a random act IMO.

(32) Hans, March 9, 2012 2:34 AM

kindness revolt 2012

I have posted the message below to more than 500 email addresses and more than 200 poets. Wouldn’t a kindness break through in 2012 be wonderful? Please forward the message below to as many people as you can. Thanks in advance Kindness revolution It started as a dream Slowly it became a belief A kindness revolution We can start a chain of small kindness that will change the world One kindness leading to ten other kindnesses and then in turn to ten others Can you imagine the snowball effect? Can you imagine how greed could be replaced by kindness? Let us make it a reality all together Can read the dream in Y.. Poetry and History (http: // How can we make it happen? How can we all be part of it? 1. Perform a hundred random kind acts in the month of May 2012 2. If many do 1. Soon the effects will snowball 3. Get this message on the mail or facebook and make sure all your friends read it 4. Write a poem on kindness and provide it or the link at the bottom of this message Thanks in advance and best regards Hans Here is one poem to start with: Speck of significance In the universe, a human so small, Looking just like a speck of dust But born with a mind and a soul And able to think, love and trust. Many think that as a human, just one Not a positive change can be made, nothing great What could a good deed selflessly done Ever mean in a world full of hate? But if a butterfly in India, flapping its wings could cause a storm over the Atlantic Just see how one of the small insignificant things Can have an effect, so gigantic Then why would your simple random kind act Just by chance or by divine intervention Not snowball and have a huge impact, Perhaps a kindness revolt of enormous dimension So in each of our lives we must Make a choice of incredible importance Do we want to be just a speck of dust Or a speck of significance. (Author: Aufie Zophy)

(31) Rbv, July 11, 2008 12:27 PM

The Word random here means what you do (the act) is random...not the frequency of the act. It means that if you give someone a hug today, tomorrow you help an old lady cross the street and the next you buy someone milk or sumthing. "Acts of kindness, no matter how small, are never wasted."~ Aesop

(30) Rachel Stern, February 21, 2008 9:06 AM

Not So Random Acts

How about "Practice Thoughtful Acts of Kindness"? or "Practice Mindful Acts of Kindness".
Actually, I prefer "Seek Out Acts Of Kindness ... and Perform Them".

(29) Brian, October 18, 2007 11:43 PM

can't figure you out

I am sure that you think you make sense and of course you will defend your position out of pure pride but come on, how on earth can you possibly think you have a decent argument here. Yes, maybe some will be offended by something, but the vast majority will be blessed.

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