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Wednesday, August 27, 2008

What happened to "Random Kindness?"

Do you remember, a few years ago, when it became popular, trendy even, to use the sentence, "Practice random kindness and senseless acts of beauty?" The words would call out to you from bumper stickers and t-shirts - maybe they even inspired you to an act of kindness or beauty.

Remember, too, how, in the aftermath of 9/11, the Asian tsunami, Katrina's devastation of the Gulf Coast, we all assured each other that now it would be "different?" To be sure, those calamities brought out the best in millions of people - we donated, we volunteered, we prayed. When the dust began to settle, we swore the kindness - random or specific - would continue. We would be better individuals, families, spouses, siblings, parents, and neighbors. We'd spend more time with the kids and less time with the TV. We'd tell people we loved them without hesitating. We'd do more for the poor and the marginalized people in our society.

Is a state of kindness difficult for the human spirit to maintain? After all, it takes much less energy to be apathetic. "Nothing I can do will make a difference." "One person can't change the world." A few simple words and you've shrugged off the responsibility. And yet...and yet...

Preacher John Bunyan, living in England in the mid-1600s, wrote, "You have not lived until you have done something for someone who can never repay you." Yet how often do we find ourselves asking, "What's in it for me?" Flash-forward 400 years, and I'm walking into the Library's second floor office area, saying good morning to Marge, one of our administrative assistants. When I ask how she is, she replies, "I can't complain, because compared to other people, I've got it so good. My problems are so small." A great perspective on life, and one we often lose. It's easy to dwell on what's wrong instead of celebrating what's right. In short-sightedness, we can take in the foreclosure crisis, unemployment issues, soaring gas and food prices, political scandals on every level and become self-protective, self-absorbed people who abandon kindness. Ask your parents & grandparents how they got through the Great Depression -- it was often by relying on the kindness of other human beings whose circumstances may not have been much better than their own.

What's my point? I thought I'd introduce another "regular" feature to PlainTalk - "not so random" acts of kindness, if you will. Have you discovered a way that allows you to quickly, easily, even painlessly make the world a better place, in a big or small way? Do you have a favorite "act of kindness," whether it stemmed from your own generosity or someone else's? Once a month, we'll have a "Kindness Column," in which I'll share tips from the Library staff on easy ways to do good -- and invite you to send in your own suggestions, too.

What do I mean? An example might be: what kind of toilet paper do you buy? Strange topic, I know. I recently discovered a brand of toilet paper I had never encountered, called "Spirit." Let's face it - we scrutinize everything on the store shelves these days because prices have gone through the roof. So this unknown product caught my eye and not only was the price right, but I noticed in the fine print that it is made by people with developmental disabilities, right here in Illinois. By buying it, I support their work and help give them solid employment - without any sacrifice to me, it's a product I need! Check out their Web site and look for Spirit on the shelves. Don't see it at your local store? Ask them to stock it.

Let's find new ways to keep the good going and provide an antidote to the bad. Want to suggest a simple act of kindness? Just post it here in the Comments section. Provide as much information as you can. Suggestions that relate to doing good right here in Des Plaines are particularly welcome. If we get enough input from you, our readers, we'll develop this into a resource on our Web site, so please don't be shy. We would love to hear from you. (P.S. The photo up above is our own Arlene Steiner, one of many friendly faces at the Circulation desk. She's helping a patron use the self-checkout machine.)

One-Click Searches on Kindness and related topics: (Use these links to find books, DVDs and more in our collection)

Kindness (adult and youth books)

Charity (adult and youth books)

Altruism (adult and youth books)

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