YOU CAN HELP CHANGE THE WORLD
The following article was given to Ken Mellor in New Zealand. Previously reprinted from Rainbow Network, Auckland, it was previously found in The New York Times, Seattle, U.S.A. Feel free to distribute it widely. We think it is a great idea.
It's a crisp winter day in San Francisco. A woman in a red Honda, Christmas Presents piled in the back, drives up to the Bay Bridge toll booth. "I'm paying for myself and for the six cars behind me," she says with a smile, handing over seven commuter tickets. One after another the next six drivers arrive at the toll booth, dollars in hand, only to be told, "Some lady up ahead already paid your fare. Have a nice day."
The woman in the Honda it turned out, had read something on an index card taped to a friend's refrigerator; "Practise random kindness and senseless acts of beauty." The phrase seemed to leap out at her and she copied it down.
Judy Foreman spotted the same phrase spray-painted on a warehouse wall a hundred miles from her home. When it stayed on her mind for days, she gave up and drove all the way back to copy it down. "I thought it was incredibly beautiful," she said, explaining why she's taken to writing it on the bottom of all her letters, "like a message from above."
Her husband, Frank, liked the phrase so much he put it up on the wall for his seventh-graders, one of whom was the daughter of a local columnist. The columnist put it in the paper, admitted that though she like it, she didn't know where it came from, or what it really meant.
Two days later, she heard from Anne Herbert. Tall, blond and 40, Anne lives in Maine, one of the country's ten richest counties, where she house-sits and takes odd jobs to get by. It was in a Sausalito restaurant that Anne jotted the phrase down on a paper place-mat, after turning it around in her mind for days. "That's wonderful!" a man sitting nearby said, and copies it down carefully on his own place-mat.
"Here's the idea," Anne says, "Anything you think there should be more of, do it randomly." Her own fantasies include breaking into depressing-looking schools to paint the classrooms, leaving hot meals on kitchen tables in poor parts of town and slipping money into a proud old woman's purse. Says Anne, "Kindness can build on itself as much as violence can."
Now the phrase is spreading, on bumper stickers, on walls, at the bottom of letters, and business cards. And as it spreads, so does a vision of guerilla goodness.
In Portland, Oregon, a man might plunk a coin into a stranger's meter just in time to avoid a fine. In Patterson, New Jersey, a dozen people with pails and mops and tulip bulbs descend on a run-down house and clean it from top to bottom while the frail elderly owners look on, dazed and smiling. In Chicago, a teenage boy may be shovelling off the driveway when the impulse strikes. "What the hell, nobody's looking," he thinks, and shovels the neighbour's driveway, too.
It's a positive anarchy disorder, a sweet disturbance. A woman in Boston writes, "Merry Christmas" to the tellers on the backs of her cheques. A man in St. Louis, whose car has just been rear-ended by a young woman, waves her away, saying, "It's just a scratch. Don't worry."
Senseless acts of beauty spread. A man plants daffodils along the roadway, his shirt billowing in the breeze from passing cars. In Seattle, a man appoints himself a one-man vigilante sanitation service and roams the concrete hills collecting litter in a supermarket cart. In Atlanta, a man scrubs graffiti from a green park bench.
They say you can't smile without cheering yourself up a little. Likewise, you can't commit a random act of kindness without feeling as if your own troubles have been lightened, if only because the world has become a slightly better place.
And you can't be a recipient without feeling a shock, a pleasant jolt. If you were one of those rush-hour drivers who found your bridge fare paid, who knows what you might have been inspired to do for someone else later. Wave someone on in the intersection. Smile at a tired clerk? Or something larger, greater? Like all revolutions, guerilla goodness begins slowly, with a single act.
Let it be yours!
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