There’s a really neat trend currently going around to honor the 26 victims of the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School – I think Ann Curry proposed it shortly after the shootings occurred last year. As the first year anniversary of the horrible event approaches, this trend has regained some momentum and we are seeing (at least locally) Facebook pictures that show the capacity that our friends and neighbors have for kindness. I love it because it inspires people to consciously perform acts of generosity that they might not otherwise think to do.

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The acts are heartwarming and range from small to large – a cup of coffee purchased for the next person in line, a small gift to bring a smile to someone’s face, a donation to charity.  It has brought out the innate good in people and really restores our faith in the fact that our society is not really as self-absorbed as it sometimes appears to be.

Through it all, I’ve been most taken aback by the acts of kindness that have been done without the specific need for money; usually a donation of someone’s time or talent. Those gestures demonstrate that you don’t necessarily need to “buy” the different acts of kindness (although, obviously, acts that require monetary payment are appreciated by the recipient and are equally as thoughtful). I’ve also been impressed by acts that have been done anonymously because I truly believe that a genuine act of kindness is one that’s done where the giver expects nothing, including praise or recognition, in return. Those two types of acts are the most impactful and yet hardest ones to figure out because it is, after all, easy to just turn around and buy a cup of coffee for the next person in line.

The other day, I witnessed such an act of kindness at the post office. There’s a brightly decorated mailbox in the lobby that’s marked “Letters to Santa” and has an address on it; something to the effect of 1234 Candycane Lane; North Pole. There was a boy (~6 years old) standing in the lobby holding his letter to Santa while his mom was inside talking to the postman. The poor boy started to panic because he had simply addressed his letter to “Santa Claus at the North Pole” instead of with the address specified on the sign. An older gentleman standing nearby saw the impending meltdown, walked over to the little boy, leaned over, and started to talk to the boy. He quietly assured the boy that because there’s only one Santa at the North Pole, the letter will definitely get to Santa. He told the boy that he (the man) had addressed his letter in the exact same way, and (wouldn’t you know?!) he just received a response back saying that he was on the “MAYBE” list. He told the boy that he was going to try harder to listen to his wife, be nice to his kids, eat all of his veggies, and drink all of his milk so that he might make it onto Santa’s “NICE” list in time for Christmas. He then helped the boy put his letter into the mailbox, patted him on the back, and left the post office all before the boy’s mom had come back out to the lobby. When she came out, she was suspicious as to why a strange man was talking to her child, but her boy said, “Mom, we put the wrong address on the letter to Santa. That man told me that he did the same thing and it got there ok…” The look on the mom’s face pretty much said it all – that stranger had anonymously done a good deed for her.

As we strive to do the things in our everyday lives that can easily make a difference in someone else’s, remember that acts of kindness are not necessarily things we have to buy for each other. A small gesture and a few kind words can make a person’s day.

As a closing note: this post is obviously not directly parenting-related, but I do believe that our children shape their beliefs by watching our everyday actions – compassion, generosity and kindness are all traits that our kids learn from us over time.

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