“Random Acts Of Niceness,” by Taffy Brodesser-Akner surprised me. (Ladies Homes Journal, June 2014 pgs. 21 23.) I wasn’t prepared for her insights about “niceness” which were deeper than one might expect from a homemaking magazine. The story began with the author’s decision to practice being nice every day for a period of time. By “being nice,” she didn’t mean doing kindnesses that required little effort, like smiling at someone or opening a door for a stranger. To be nice, she had to make an effort beyond these courtesies.
She started small, buying a beverage for the person standing in line behind her at the local coffee shop. When that person failed to thank her or even acknowledge her existence, however, she was surprised by her reaction. She felt annoyed and that annoyance became her first lesson in the art of being nice. An act of kindness is to be done for its own sake, not for gratitude.
When I read her words, I thought of the German philosopher, Emanuel Kant. He observed that performing a virtuous act requires sacrifice and can leave us feeling resentful. The reason is that when we are doing a good deed for others, we are doing less for ourselves. That great American novel a person plans to write may have to be postponed while he or she sits with a friend whose father is dying.
But, as Brodesser-Akner discovered in her practice, a strange transformation happens on the road to being nice. Looking for opportunities to be kind, she became aware of how much kindness there was in the world. She saw it in the smiles of strangers, in the compliments of friends, and in the faces of volunteers doing charitable work. Had human nature suddenly changed, she wondered. Or had being kind opened her eyes? Whatever the reason, she felt buoyed by a new knowledge which gave her a “swelling sense of lightness and benevolence.” (Ibid, pg. 81) Her existence, she realized, was not ordinary, after all.
The wisdom of being kind has been sent down to us through the ages but only in its practice do we come understand: Life reflects what we are looking for.
(Originally published 7/8/14)
(Courtesy of womenofspiritandlight.wordpress.com)