So there was this guy named Wenceslaus. He was king. Good King Wenceslaus. He got murdered by his brother in 935, but before he went down they wrote a song about him and what he did on this day, Saint Stephen’s Day, December 26. You probably know the song, but just in case here are the words below (or just click here to read along with the song, courtesy of the Irish Rovers).
Cliff notes version: King sees poorly peasant dude gathering fire wood in the freezing cold, then invites him in and buys him dinner. Then later, King and page are walking home in a snow storm, and King walks before him to lay tracks and lessen wind drag for the page. Nice dude, huh?
In a nutshell, King Wenceslaus was all about random acts of kindness.
This is something I know a thing or two about because 1. I have been on the receiving end of more random acts of kindness than I can count, and 2. A year ago I started a blog devoted to nothing but random acts of kindness. If you have been following here for a while, you might know it as I Believe in Strangers. It was a total failure.
No, really. I stopped posting after a couple of months. And not because of traffic – it got a lot of traffic. I let it fail on purpose.
For one thing, even though it was a very simple concept, I had a hard time keeping up with it – the daily post schedule was too ambitious, and between work and this site, I dropped the ball over and over again. And even if I had more time, just finding source material was difficult. Here is something you might not know: Everyone can recall being nice to a stranger, but very few people can recall a stranger being nice to them. I italicize recall for a reason.
Because here is thing, even people I know in person, and even those who have received a random act of kindness from a stranger in front of my very eyes, could not recall ever being on the receiving end. Even when prompted. By me.
Easily, 90% of the submissions to I Believe in Strangers were from folks reporting nice things they had done for other people, which, was wonderful for me to read, but it says something us as people. Why can everyone remember being on the giving end of a random act of kindness, but can never recall being on the receiving side of things? How can everyone be giving while nobody is receiving? The math does not add up. This put me up for a bit of contemplative searching, and, if I can be honest here, I didn’t like what I found.
Sometimes people would send in a ‘Let me tell you about this great thing I did for somebody!’ and then, they’d email a week later to ask why I had not published it on the site yet. What do you say to that? It was frustrating. Here, I thought it was a wonderful, simple concept that I could use as a New Years Resolution, and it became a major source of irritation that shook my faith in humanity. Talk about butthurt.
So. As 2013 draws to a close and I take inventory of the what has come, I will say that, for totally selfish reasons, starting I Believe in Strangers was one of the worst ideas I ever had….it was also one of the best things that ever happened to me. I gleaned so much from those who read and wrote in those few short months. Since my takeaway from this project was GOSH, THERE ARE A LOT OF SIMPLE WAYS TO BE NICE TO PEOPLE, I thought this might be a good opportunity to list a few of my favorites.
If someone reading this can take away an idea to help someone else, fantastic. If it allows me to close the year and lessen the sting of failure, I’m in. Let’s start 2014 on the right foot. A kind foot. Can feet be kind? Okay. You get it. Let’s go:
- When it snows, wake up early to shovel your neighbor’s driveway. Don’t tell them you did it or let them feel obligated to return the favor.
- Surprise your spouse/family/roommate by doing the dishes or cleaning the bathroom before they have to ask you.
- Let someone go in front of you in line.
- After you leave the house in the morning, make an effort to greet the first person you see with great enthusiasm– the clerk at the coffee shop, the gas station attendant, the bank teller, the security guard at your office building – greet this first person like were your favorite celebrity.
- Hold the door open for someone.
- On your birthday, get yourself a $1 bill for every year (28 years = 28 dollar bills). Fold each bill and write “THIS WAS MEANT FOR YOU” on each one, then insert them in random places – in between cans at the grocery store, under the handle at the gas pump, under a stranger’s windshield wiper, etc.
- Next time you see a stray grocery cart in the parking lot, take a minute to drive it back to the store.
- Compliment a stranger on their appearance – their hair, their coat, their smile. Hearing “You look nice today” can change revolutionize someone’s day.
- Next time you get the check at a restaurant, ask your server to include the bill of the next table. Then leave before they get a chance to thank you.
- Every time you see a child, any child, look them in the eye and smile. You are teaching them to do the same when they grow up.
- Offer to babysit for a neighbor, friend or family member. Don’t just offer in passing – tell them I would like to do this and schedule a date and time.
- Pay for coffee with a $20 and put the change in the tip jar.
- Next time you see someone with a stroller, car seat, luggage, or a large box, ask them if they need help. Even if they don’t need help they will appreciate that someone asked.
- If you come across a server or store clerk that is especially helpful, take a moment to get their name. Call back later and report your positive experience to their manager.
- Pick up a Santa letter and give a child their gift of choice.
- Make a monthly habit of rounding up things you no longer use and give them to a shelter, a charity shop, church, hospital, public library, etc. Tell your neighbors you plan on doing this and they might pitch in too.
- Give up your seat for someone on public transportation.
- When someone comes home from the hospital, drop off a casserole (if you don’t cook, pick up something from a bakery, etc. ). Unless they need your help with something, don’t go inside – they may feel embarrassed about their appearance or feel obligated to entertain you. Wish them well and be on your way!
- Keep an extra umbrella in your glove compartment for the express purpose of giving it away to someone who needs it next time it rains.
- And most important: When somebody is nice to you, thank them profusely. Not only will it encourage them to do the same by somebody else, it will make you that much more aware of your own gratitude and your ability to have the same effect on other people.
Happy Saint Stephen’s Day!