Lessons From A Commitment to Kindness

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21 Days Of Kindness

When I began the commitment, on December first, to demonstrate and record three weeks of conscious and purposeful acts of kindness, I was trying to build a habit. I wanted to see if I could apply thoughtful consideration to deliver at least one planned (not random) act of kindness toward someone who wouldn’t be expecting it each and every day. I wasn’t looking for anything in return – certainly not any form of recognition for what I would be doing. Instead, I had a second goal in mind. I wanted to see if my actions and words could potentially inspire others to make the same commitment themselves. Imagine what our community, workplace and society would be like if we all just planned out one conscious act of unexpected kindness each day.

Day one involved the simple acknowledgement of a co-worker. Day three was a back rub for my wife. On day six I left a few dollars with the cashier in our cafeteria and asked her to surprise someone with a free lunch. What I was discovering, however, was that I was waking up each morning with the thought of planning a kind act at the front of my mind. It wasn’t that nervous, anxious feeling that we sometimes wake up with. Instead it was like a daily challenge that I knew would be rewarded with a smile.

On day seven I experienced a break through. I recognized that the kindest thing I could plan for that day would be for me to get out of my comfort zone and go to the desk of a woman who had been inspiring me with her own acts of kindness. I would have to admit to her that, despite working in the same office for 13 years, I only knew who she was because of what she’d been writing on Facebook. What she told me during that short visit and in a note she sent me later will remain between the two of us. What I will tell you is that because I acknowledged the impact that she was having on the way I thought about kindness, it helped her to realize that her voice could make a difference. That felt really good.

Then something happened. Someone close to me sent a private note that took me to task for what I’d been writing.

“Do you really have to think about being kind and is it really necessary to tell the whole world? Come on… You do this stuff all by yourself, everyday of your life. (I) can not stand you blogging about it.”

I was stunned by the message and, I’ll admit, that my first reaction was a mixture of disappointment and anger. A few minutes later, a second note arrived.

“I am pretty sure that my opinion isn’t a big deal. I just want to make sure that you know that the Bible says you should do these things in secret. I HATE that you are doing this 21 days of kindness. Hate it. Hate it. You are way wrong on this, so much that I cannot even talk about it. Stop, please. You’re killing me.”

I kept that message inside of me and thought about it for days. The sender’s opinion actually does matter to me. I wondered if I could really be so wrong in my actions that I would evoke such a unexpected response?

For the next week I continued to look for ways to surprise, acknowledge, and help people whose lives were in some way intersecting with mine. I felt different about the effort that it took and how thinking differently about purposeful acts of kindness made me feel about myself. The positive feedback to the daily updates in my blog and hearing reports of what others had started to do themselves was reinforcing my motivation. I could almost literally feel the habit being established. And yet I couldn’t escape the concern over the words that came in the message.

On day seventeen, I’d completed the updates to my blog for the prior two days. They were a little longer and more involved than what I’d written previously. Unfortunately, my blog crashed and the unsaved content was lost.

For the next few days I was feeling disappointed that the written words could not be shared. I continued with my daily commitment, but didn’t write about them. I intended to rewrite the two missing days first. But that didn’t happen.

And now, I look back on the three weeks with a realization that it all worked out. I learned how to think about kindness in a different way and have built a new habit of acting more purposefully. I discovered that sharing messages of good deeds can have both positive and negative impact depending as much on the recipient as the sender.

Most importantly, I realized that while stories of kindness may disappear or fade away – sometimes before even being heard – the feeling that comes from a conscious and purposeful act of kindness will endure.

Here’s a link to the first 15 days of my journey and a summary of what took place on the two days that were lost. I’ve decided to end my daily reports but continue the behavior. 21 Days Of Kindness

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  • A satisfied PEMCO customer
    Mar. 5, 2013
    Dear Rod,

    I am one of your fans and follow your website.

    I strongly felt it as my responsibility to respond to this post and see if I can influence you, even if not for greater good, for your own sake.

    The world as I see has an abundance of kind people like you. And it is not this kindness the world needs. An act of kindness often leaves lasting negative impression – humiliation and misery on the receiving side. For example, one evening your family members are out of home and you are alone. Your friendly neighbor greets you into his home and you have great time talking stuff. Next evening you are strutting in your lawn and your neighbor calls you in again. You do this many times in the following days. Can you imagine what you would go through when one day you discover that your neighbor was entertaining you merely out of kindness knowing that you are alone?

    An act of kindness sometimes makes the recipients feel entitled and look forward for kindness from other people, sometimes demand the kindness, rendering them a burden to the society.

    It is the ‘compassion’ that the world needs Rod. It is the all-encompassing passion towards people and things – animate & inanimate around you that the world really needs. You are not helping people by being merely kind with the idea that you want to be kind or perform one random act of kindness. When you are compassionate the kindness oozes from you and this act touches the people, touches their hearts and emotions.

    When you are merely being kind for the sake of being kind it will only touch your ego. What has the world to do with your ego Rod? There is already enough trouble in the world because of people’s egos. The personal egos have led to the collapse of countries and bankruptcy of many great organizations. Whereas, being compassionate can bring lasting transformation and stillness within you.

    It is a blessing that you are in a position to feel that you could be kind to others. However you don't require to feel good or be successful or be content with wealth or feel healthy to be compassionate. Actually you need a reason to show your kindness. You don't need any reason to be compassionate!

    Can you see the difference between the smile you give or the sympathy you express because you wanted to be kind and the same when you are compassionate?

    Moreover did you realize that by wanting to be kind you are seeking others’ kindness towards you?

    Next time you donate money to an earthquake victim or buy lunch to a homeless, do it with compassion and see how blissful you will feel with that act. With compassion, you help yourself more than you help others. Naturally you don't feel the need for others to know or recognize what you did out of compassion.

    Thanks a bunch Rod!
  • Rod
    Jan. 21, 2013
    Lisa - my dear friend,

    Thank you. For some reason I didn't see your comment when it was posted yesterday. Instead I was led to it today. The timing was great and your words are so very appreciated. Thanks for your on-going perspective and interest. It means a lot. Your comment made my evening brighter. Your friendship makes my life brighter.

    All the best,

    Rod
  • Lisa Jensen
    Jan. 20, 2013
    Rod, thank you once again for your transparency and authenticity. Those core values are some most dear to me. You continue to challenge ME to live authentically and make me feel okay about being transparent. I also appreciate the INTENTION with which you go about the business of your "acts of kindness." Your stories have been inspiring and heart-warming.

    Perhaps I might present an alternative viewpoint than your naysayers, particularly the one who was offended from a biblical perspective. As the daughter of a pastor, I’m compelled to offer another opinion. I see you as a modern day evangelist. Not in terms of propagating your religion but instead in spreading encouragement, wisdom and living by example those tenets that you espouse. It is refreshing, courageous and so very needed in this world! The disciples and apostles of Christ often spoke out boldly sharing about miracles they watched Christ perform and also how their lives were being changed by being in relationship with Him.

    While your stories and insights aren't for the purposes of proselytizing others from a religious standpoint, I believe they are a remarkable message about the importance of courtesy, kindness and human connection. Everything you've shared is clearly done so with great thought and true humility. Don't be discouraged, instead be enlightened, by those who might challenge you. We are all learning! If those you mention would consider themselves to be "believers" of the Christian faith, they ARE following key biblical principles of "judging one another" and "going to a brother who has offended them." Their boldness and courage should be applauded as they are clearly concerned for the welfare of your spiritual journey! :-)

    I'll apologize for the length of this post, but encourage you to carry on in your efforts, continue to ponder them in your heart and speak out freely when you feel led to do so. You are a leader and a disciple of kindness. Through your words, I am being impacted and as a result, many others in my path. Thanks for not just “walking the talk” but also “talking the walk!” Others are benefiting from your testimony and witness. (I guess it's fitting that I'm posting this on a Sunday morning!) God bless you always, Lisa

The Fine Print

Rod Brooks (that's me) is VP & CMO of PEMCO Mutual Insurance Company and serves as Immediate Past Chair of the Board of Directors for the Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA).  It's important to disclose both of those relationships and to be clear that this is my personal blog where I share thoughts and opinions that are solely my own.  Contact me!

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