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You cannot do an act of kindness too soon

In case you haven’t noticed, the annual National Random Acts of Kindness Day is coming up soon. The week of February 14 is National Random Acts of Kindness Week and Wednesday, February 17, is the official day.

The “kindness movement” began in the mid-1990s with the release of a book called “Random Acts of Kindness” which recounted personal experiences with the practice of offering unexpected kind gestures to strangers. As a member of the local Rotary Club, I read about Rotarians in Bakersfield, California, who were among the first to join the effort.

The Rotary Club of Bakersfield adopted the idea from Chuck Wall, a human relations professor at Bakersfield College. As a homework assignment, Wall asked his students to perform “a random act of senseless kindness.” The class committed a variety of good deeds which ranged from greeting people on the street and shaking their hands to visiting seniors with flowers to passing out sandwiches to the homeless.

A Bakersfield high school Interact Club-a Rotary youth organization-took on the kindness campaign as a project and began to promote the idea among Interact clubs across the nation. The rest is history.

The skeptic may question the value of a day or week set aside for acts of kindness, but I think the observance is not only a good idea, it’s necessary. As our society grows more divided, impersonal and violent there is a strong need to focus on the value of kindness. Even for a day or a week.

Though I was well schooled by my mother in the art of kindness, I fall far short of my instructor’s example. When I was working I got wrapped up in meeting deadlines, completing tasks and achieving goals and kindness often took a back seat. Now that I’m retired, I have no excuse.

My mother seemed to be able to weave acts of kindness into her daily life. Whether it was a casserole for someone who had been hospitalized, a cake or pie for a family which had lost a loved one or a greeting card to let someone know she cared, Mom made kindness look easy.

Just as I do not overlook acts of kindness intentionally, I don’t commit acts of unkindness intentionally. I wish my ability to commit acts of kindness, however, came as naturally as the other nature.

The simplest act of kindness can make a deep and lasting impression. I recall an individual who was a high school senior the year I was in sixth grade. (In our tiny school 6th through 12th grades were all on the same floor.) I walked by as he was cleaning out his locker on his last day of school. He stopped me and asked if I wanted a stack of Reader’s Digests that had accumulated in his locker and was about to dump in the trash can.

A voracious young reader from a home which could not afford many magazines, I readily accepted his offer. I had lots of good reading for the entire summer.

Our paths have crossed only a few times in the 61 years since the incident but I remember him and his simple act of kindness with fondness.

There have been many other incidents where someone extended a kindness to me and each recollection brings a warm feeling. That warm feeling works both ways. When I do get around to doing something nice for someone else I realize anew how good it feels to do so. Washington Irving described the feeling when he called a kind heart “a fountain of gladness.”

I support the premise of the movement’s practice of offering unexpected kind gestures to strangers and I believe that kindness, like charity, begins at home. That’s a great place to start.

Whether you’re like my mother and make kindness a part of your daily life or like me and have to work at it, I hope you’ll join the kindness movement, too. There certainly has never been a better time in our nation’s history for National Random Acts of Kindness Week.

Come to think of it, there’s no reason to wait. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “You cannot do a kindness too soon, for you never know how soon it will be too late.”

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