Monday, August 22, 2011

To put the 'random' back into acts of kindness

A few years ago, several people recommended a series on TV called "Random Acts of Kindness" which they thought was great. When I watched an episode, something immediately stood out to me. On this program, a few main groups of people were recipients of hugely elaborate gestures.

1) People who had dealt with long recoveries from serious accidents or injuries.
2) People who had poured resources into their community in the form of service, help or time.
3) People who had committed really heroic deeds.
4) A combination of any or all of the above. (There were more combinations than I would have expected.)

I enjoyed watching the surprise on the recipients' faces and the tears flowing freely from everybody concerned, but I still thought the program's name was misleading. It could have been called DAOK (Deserved Acts of Kindness) To me, the choice of recipients wasn't totally random at all but carefully selected based on the above criteria.

What if it was totally random? What if recipients were selected from the White Pages or a stroll down the street? What if unexpected acts of generosity happened to people who are doing nothing more heroic than trying to pay their next rent or mortgage, put their kids happily through school, and squeeze their grocery shopping into already crammed trolleys and schedules? Our country is full of single mums who struggle to get their children ready for school each day before joining the rat-race. There are dads who are concerned about house repairs which need to be done with not enough month at the end of the money. Think of housewives who face their thousandth load of greasy pans and sauce-splattered plates by the sink while they're exhausted, and families who have to opt for paying off their power bills over taking a short holiday.

I heard about a photograph of an anonymous group of people. Everybody who saw it assumed the subjects were witnesses of some catastrophic event, or attending a funeral at the very least. It turns out they were sitting in a train carriage at 8am on a weekday morning on their way into work. Just a couple of the quiet, unsung heroes and heroines who repeat the same routine over and over, day after day, living their lives in quiet desperation.

Imagine what sort of a world it would be if people intentionally did true random acts of kindness for others each week. I used to think I had no money to manage anything good enough. I've come to see that this makes no difference at all. Most of us are so parched for acts or words of kindness or friendliness that the smallest gesture will be soaked up like a sponge.

When I attended the Writers Fair in Perth last April, I was given a free book by another author named Elaine Fraser. Being on a really tight budget, I was looking at the lovely cover of her book, "Too Beautiful" and thinking I'd have to do without. She said, "Just take one with my blessings." Wow! In my 41 years of life, that hasn't happened to me enough to count on my fingers. I can tell you, that was the first book I wanted to read on the plane back to Adelaide. And whenever I see its spine in my shelf, I remember her kindness.

I love it when acts of kindness are truly random as well as deserved.* I like to think how Jesus set a precedent for them. Many of his recipients were not super-deserving but just normal people going about their usual work. "Hey Zaccheus, come down from that tree! I'm having lunch with you... Hey Levi, would you consider leaving that tax booth and coming with me?... Excuse me ma'am, would you mind dipping that bucket down the well to get me a drink? Yes, I know I'm in Samaria but if you knew who I was, you'd ask me and I'd give you living water."

That's grace. That's his way of showing us that random and deserving should, in fact, blend into one, because we all deserve random acts of kindness.

* For anybody interested in RAOK, my novel "A Design of Gold" explores the subject in more depth. Several characters are determined to figure out exactly how, when, why and where they should be carried out and the specific science behind them. Their conclusions may come as a big surprise. Copies available from Koorong, Word, other selected Christian bookstores, or contact me for a signed copy.


  1. Thanks for this post, Paula. I had an experience of being the recipient of a random kindness recently and it really touched me. Three weeks ago a friend of mine cooked me dinner. No I hadn't been having a terrible week (although it has been a tough year), no I hadn't been sick - she just felt led by the Lord to cook us a meal. As I ate her casserole it was like every mouthful was an encouragement and I knew I had been seen by God!

  2. That's great, Penny. Now that you mention it, we did something similar for Emma's best friend and her mum. They'd had a day down in the city having medical tests so we just bought them a supermarket lasagne and garlic bread on the spur of the moment. They appreciated it more than we expected. We'd been close to not doing it, because I'd been embarrassed that it would seem measly and skimpy. I guess we shouldn't underestimate the value of a simple gesture.

  3. Great post there are so many who could use a RAOK who are you said are ordinary people. we have had it happen at times when someone gave us some free wood. a couple years back a lady won a load and didn't have a fire and asked our church if there was someone in the church who could really use the gift. We were really blessed as wood can be expensive. On books I have been blessed by winning books or just having one sent at times i wasn't expecting. with money tight and about to get even tighter unless I get work soon these things are a huge blessing.
    one of my elderly neighbours from the last place I was is a hard one to bless. I got some free oranges that someone at church was trying to give away so I asked if I could share them with her and they were only to happy to share. well she insists on giving a donation for them or paying. today I said this is your birthday gift you cant pay me for that. (birthday is Wednesday.)

  4. What a great gift, to get a load of wood to last part of the winter, Jenny. I agree that winning books is great. I won another one from Lena Nelson Dooley's site recently. I've been suggesting book swaps with others lately, which has really blessed me and the other authors.

  5. Congrats on winning at Lena's blog again one place never won a book.
    I was talking to someone just awhile ago where I clean we are doing cupboards and I had some flower posts from there. I was saying I have gained a few things from her and one that may sound small to others was a few boxes matches with only a few in them but ones they didn't want. they have meant I haven't had to buy matches this year. its not a big expense but something that means a huge amount to me.
    ps I now come from Adelaide!

  6. I agree with you,that show did not have very random acts of kindness. We had a Friday news segment where one person would give away money to random people on the street. It was called "Feel Good Friday." It seems to fit the description of RAOK much better. Of course, its downfall was that eventually the people who were giving the money out would be given the last bill ($100). After that, people sought out the reporter to be the one to give. NOT because they wanted to give it away, but because they wanted their piece of the action. Sad. That was a good segment.

    I'm always amazed when people do nice things for me. I try to "pay it forward" and also start my own chains of RAOK. We need more generosity in our world!

    Peace and Laughter,

  7. Yes, there is so much room to be random.
    This post reminded me of a post I blogged nearly 2 years ago - Game or Random.
    It is so lovely to be on the receiving side sometimes - how lovely to have that book spine reminding you.

  8. I would have liked to have seen a few episodes of "Feel Good Friday" Cristina. I love it when people do good things for nothing. Michelle, why don't you resurrect that old post?


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