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Overthinking Kindness


To my surprise, one of the 32 goals I set for myself this year, to complete 12 random acts of kindness, has continually eluded me.  To the untrained eye (you, dear reader) that might indicate that I’m just generally an unkind person, after all how hard can it be to be kind to someone at random?

Well for me, it’s proved quite difficult.

To be completely honest, I think this is all due to a mental block on my part.  A problem of semantics, of technicalities, of definitions.  It’s all in my head.  

I’ve talked before about the absurdity of most suggested acts of “kindness.”  Opening doors for people or calling a relative to say hi or forgiving someone are not acts of kindness, but rather things you should be doing in your day-to-day anyways.  If you need a list on the internet to tell you so, then you may not be as kind as you think.

Ooops, did I just break your bubble?

I consider myself a kind and considerate person.  I’m continuously thinking about how I can help or surprise or just be extra kind to the people I know and love because it’s fun and I know they appreciate it.  One reason I set this goal was to try my hand at offering the same level of kindness and consideration to complete strangers.  But I immediately hit a hurdle.

On paper, it seems a simple gesture to pay for the car behind me in the drive thru or to top up a parking meter with a few coins.  All it requires is being on the ball in the moment and remembering to actually do it, and I did with the first.  The second I didn’t get a chance to try before our city switched to a different process using credit cards at centralized pay stations… with the departure of parking meters went one easy way of helping someone randomly.  Darn city!

But other gestures that I liked the thought of, such as leaving a friendly note in a book rented from the library, or giving a gift to the cleaning lady at work, or bringing baking to the local firehouse, while certainly kind don’t actually seem to be random.  How is the action random if it requires foresight?  I regret that I got entirely hung up on this line of thought.  How could I claim to have completed this task if it wasn’t actually a random, spur of the moment, act of kindness?

I got too distracted by this technicality.  If I’d done these things, they still would have been kindnesses that I wouldn’t normally show, and therefore random for me.  Like I said, it was all in my head.

So what did I actually do?  Well, I kept doing the kinds of things I do anyways.  I hold doors open for folks, especially the elderly or those with strollers or multiple bags or otherwise have their hands full.  I also gave up my seat a few times for those who needed it more than I did on the train – I don’t do this as often as I used to since I don’t need to take public transit to work anymore.  But like I’ve said, I don’t consider these types of things kindnesses so much as showing proper manners.

New for me this year was paying for an individual behind me in the drive thru for the first time.  As I drove away I felt like I had gotten away with doing something underhanded somehow – as silly as that is, it gave me a thrill.  I don’t want to do this on a regular basis because we’re not made of money, but I will definitely consider doing this again, especially in the mornings at coffee shops because I think starting someone’s day off on a positive note will have the most impact not only for that individual but for those around them.

Also, I found a random printable online that had compliments that could be torn off and given away, so I printed it off one Monday and made some cuts and taped it up in a central location in my office, hoping that folks would pick one for themselves or to give one to a coworker.  The comments ranged from things like “you look great today” to “I’m so glad I work with you.”  By the end of the week, they were all gone.  It made me feel good that others took the nudge to spread the kindness around.

But that’s it.  That’s all I did “randomly” for strangers.  So I definitely didn’t complete this goal, but I did learn a few things about myself as a result, and isn’t that really the point of goals anyways?  I learned that my troubles stem from my propensity to overthink things.  And while some might say that overthinking things is bad or silly or unnecessary, I personally see the value in this tendency of mine to put a lot of thought into things.  I don’t see that part of me changing anytime soon.

Nevertheless, I’m sure that firehouse would still appreciate some brownies…


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