To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
When you hear the phrase “conscious service,” what do you think of? Distributing used laptops to the recently incarcerated? Offering reliable health care to the homeless? Employing impoverished people in third world countries to reforest the region?
Of course. All that. But small, everyday acts of kindness are just as important as the big scale projects. How so? Because it takes all of 30 seconds to show someone how much they matter. The opportunities for these small gestures are everywhere around us but we often fail to act on them because we’re stressed out, distracted, under deadline, and just not trained to think that way.
To me, conscious service has nothing to do with scale. It’s simply a synonym for kindness.
When you pick up garbage off a stranger’s yard, that’s conscious service. When wind blows off someone’s hat and you chase it down the street, that’s conscious service. Smiling at someone in a bad mood. Offering to pick up prescriptions for a neighbor. Printing out family photos and mailing them to Grandpa. Making a heart out of M&M’s and leaving them on your child’s desk. Painting your mother’s gray roots with dye the hairdresser dropped off. Mailing a check to your barber who is unable to work.
It’s these small, everyday acts of kindness, done with the intention to help someone else, that can change a person’s entire outlook in life. That can flip cynicism into optimism. That can transform mistrust into receptivity. Offering kindness to someone suffering with depression can give them, out of nowhere, the will to live. I know because it happened to me.
One afternoon in my 20s I was sitting at a coffee shop in NYC, applying to writing programs. Actually I was doing less writing than holding my head in my hands, thinking all sorts of dark things I won’t go into here. A man sat down across from me. He was wearing a gray stocking cap, gloves with the fingers cut out, and he didn’t smell very good. “I’m going to teach you a new skill,” he said, and plunked down a chess board. “It will take your mind off what’s happening up here.” He tapped his head. For the next two hours I learned to play chess from a homeless man who corrected my grammar and encouraged me not to frown so much. To this day I love him with all my heart.
Your own innocent, everyday act of kindness has potentially helped save someone’s life. And you likely never knew it.
Acts of kindness benefit both giver and receiver. When performing an act of kindness, you experience the empowerment that comes from being able to touch someone’s heart. And the receiver feels seen by you, loved by you, and shown how much they matter. You BOTH receive a burst of joy and human connection and a sense of “my life has meaning!” that can be hard to come by, especially when isolated.
What might the world look like if we all prioritized acts of kindness? If kindness became our default mindset? Can you imagine the global attitude shift? Humans celebrating other humans; humans receiving evidence of their own worth for no other reason than they are living, breathing beings.
That’s a virus we WANT to spread.
Give kindness. And help heal this world.
(See here for Research on the Ripple Effects of Kindness)