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“Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.” ~ Leo Buscaglia

When performing small acts of kindness I often wonder if it’s worth it. Is my time and effort (and money) being spent wisely? Am I actually improving someone’s day or is my thoughtfulness being strewn aside?  Am I even making a difference? 

There are days when I feel incredibly inspired and can easily find the motivation to perform kind acts but on those other days, the days where it all seems meaningless and I feel discouraged, I think of this story. I can’t remember where I first heard this but it has stuck with me ever since. 

A couple was walking along the shoreline at low tide. The beach was littered with tens of thousands of starfish that had been left behind on the sand when the tide went out and lay dying in the hot sun. The man picked up a starfish and hurled it into the sea, then another, then another.

His companion laughed at his efforts saying that he could hardly make a difference given that there were so many stranded starfish scattered along the shoreline.

Undaunted, the man picked up another starfish and as he hurled it into the surf he said “made a difference to that one.” 

If you’re like me and you find yourself questioning the influence of your actions, remember this story and remember that you only need to transform the life of one person to be successful. That smile you shared or that positive note you left behind may be the very thing that changed someone’s life.

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It’s that time again…time for another round of Kindness Ideas (one of my favourite things!). Here are some pretty simple things you can do today to brighten someone’s day. What are you waiting for? 😀 

  • Write a thank you note to someone.
  • Put together a writing kit with stationery, envelopes, stamps and a pen and give to a hospital or nursing home.
  • Put something you no longer need on Craig’s list free spot for your area.
  • Leave something for someone at an area where it might be used, (lighter near smoking area, book in reading area, umbrella near door on rainy day).
  • Leave a book you have already finished somewhere for someone else to read.
  • At the post office leave some extra stamps at the stamp machine.
  • Send a picture you have taken which includes a friend and send it to them with a note remembering when it was taken.
  • Buy a phone card and give it to a homeless shelter for them to give to someone.
  • Open the phone book, pick a name, and send them something (movie tickets, thank you card, you are appreciated card, book, etc.) anonymously.
  • Take flowers to a hospital ward and give them to someone who hasn’t had any visitors.
  • Take some cake, chocolates, flowers etc. to the neighbours, or a senior citizen nearby.
  • Make a cd of your favorite songs and give it to a friend (or leave it in public for a stranger to find).
  • Invite someone who is alone over for dinner.
  • Share a comic strip or something funny with someone else.
  • Write a note or send an e-greeting “just to say hello” to someone who might need a pick me up.

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Being Kind

Below is a beautiful, powerful post on being kind by linnaea bohn (found on tinybuddha.com). Her story about the woman and the dog is especially heart-warming.

Being Kind When It’s Seen as a Weakness

“The true measure of a man is how he treats someone who can do him absolutely no good.” ~Samuel Johnson

When I worked in the corporate world, I didn’t focus on a race to the top. I enjoyed the day-to-day work of running a product line, finding opportunities for new markets, and helping managers in other countries launch similar lines tailored to their markets.

My approach was to be ethical in all aspects of the work, to have concern for the people I was working with to achieve results, and to share the credit appropriately. This was not the latest “management style,” nor was it proven.

The most senior managers saw the bottom line increase and gave me more responsibility and a promotion, while immediate supervisors discredited me since I was not like them.

A transfer to Asia fortunately took me out of the quagmire of home office politics. I felt the freedom to continue managing in a way that was natural to me: to encourage my teams with kindness, cooperation, and credit while we increased market share and the bottom line.

My staff felt safe and enjoyed their work. The division prospered.

However, my immediate superior didn’t value my approach. He viewed it as a sign of weakness that I was caring and thoughtful, and that I cooperated and shared with each colleague. 

Even though I had added millions to the bottom line, I lost my job, my career.

When I’d started an MBA years before, I’d dreamed of changing the world in some significant way by helping others. There was no major in that, so I did an independent major: marketing for not-for-profits. 

It was hard to find a job after graduation, since arts organizations in the mid 1970s didn’t see the need to hire an MBA. I realized that if I wanted to share knowledge and skills to change the world in some way, and do it while being kind, I had to go solo.

I went on a solo trek to the Himalayas to clear my mind and spent a month meditating at a small monastery near Kathmandu. I then journeyed to India for a healing purification retreat.

Months later at a Buddhist initiation, I heard the Boddhisattva vows. They were about putting others before self, being kind, keeping’s one’s word, and more. I breathed a sigh of relief. I felt like I’d come home. 

I wanted to put those vows into practice in a practical way. At first I thought I would return to Hong Kong as an entrepreneur and send my earnings to Tibetans to start refugee schools. I learned, however, that it would be more beneficial to help refugees create opportunities for work. So I did.

I made the Himalayas my home, and volunteered to help Tibetan refugees develop small enterprises based on their skills and suited to their temperament and culture. This way they could become economically self-sufficient, eliminating the need for charitable donations.

My neighbors in the village where I lived were Punjabi widows—refugees themselves, without any income. Yet they could knit well. I helped them turn their lives around by teaching them designs, colors, and sizes that were in style. I also showed them how to sell these sweaters locally on their own.

It felt so natural to be kind and help others there. Kindness was a way of life for many. 

A story that comes to mind involves a woman and a dog. 

Dogs that are not used as shepherds in the Himalayas are feral. They look for scraps and fight a lot. People are terrified of the packs.

One day I heard a puppy whimpering. Village children, who had taken it as a temporary toy, helped me retrace their path to place the pup near a sibling. The mother dog came out of hiding to wash and feed the pup. Her bony body somehow produced milk for five puppies. 

From that day I cooked brown rice and eggs for her, concerned that she herself would starve from feeding them. I would leave the food near the home she’d dug for her family under a log in a small wooded area. 

One day that spring there was a long, slow snowstorm that prevented me from feeding her. 

At daybreak the next day I placed some food near her shelter, but she didn’t come out. I waited and then slowly approached the hole. There was a snow-covered burlap sac covering the mouth of the shelter, but not one dog. Someone had been kind to protect the family from the storm, but the dogs were gone. 

As I walked though the small woods looking for them, I noticed a house. A woman came to the door. Using hand signs and imitating the whimpering sounds of pups, I asked if she had seen the dogs.

She took me by the hand to a tiny abode. On the veranda of this one room structure was a woman cooking a small copper pot of rice on a stick fire. Around the fire were the mom and pups, lying comfortably and soaking in the warmth. The woman’s own children and husband were inside under a blanket on the single rope cot. 

This frail bodied woman from Rajastan, in her thin cotton sari and shawl, shared her family’s only pot of rice with the dog family.

She and her husband were day laborers, carrying boulders on their heads as roads were being excavated through the mountains. 

They earned less than a dollar a day for their combined work. In a bare room with a doorway as the only opening, they lived with clothes suited for the 120 degree heat of the desert, eating one meal a day. 

This woman unflinchingly shared her food with this female dog and her puppies. She didn’t have much to give, but that didn’t stop her from giving what she could. 

I had come to India to help others, with a vision to change the world in some small but significant way. Yet without intent, education, or desire, this woman changed my life in a very significant way. Her instinctive kindness that received no appreciation, let alone results or rewards, softened my heart. 

I see that being a kind human has value in any walk of life. This is what I took with me into future work. Even though I many not be the manager other people want me to be, I am valuable in any organization because I am kind.

I care about the people who work around me. I care about each individual client, customer, and colleague. This may not be a prerequisite for a successful career, but it’s my prerequisite for a successful life.

Each kindness changes the world. Being kind is what makes my world significant. 

Whatever values you hold dear—whether it’s kindness, gentleness, calmness, or honesty—live it. Be it, even if the people around you don’t seem to value the same things; especially if the people around you don’t seem to value those things. That might be the very reason you came into their lives

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Here is another awesome story from helpothers.org. I must apologize if I’m getting a little redundant with these stories but I just love to read them so I assume others will too. They are so inspiring, full of amazing kind ideas and so very uplifting when I’m having a bad day. So here’s another to warm your heart…

My V-Neck Sweater 

–posted by toanlam on Jul 21, 2011 

Driving home from a movie I knew I was running out of gas. For some reason I passed up the nearest gas station and was compelled to drive well out of my way to gas up.  

As I pulled up I was captivated by the scene; fancy cars, hybrids, Mercedes and Hondas juxtaposed against two homeless men eating out of the trash can. Another man was asking customers if he could clean their windscreens for spare change.

As I stepped the warm confines of my car I felt the frigid wind against my face. That’s when a homeless man walked up to me with a desperate look in his eyes. He said, “Sir! Someone stole all my stuff! Can you believe that? Do you have an extra jacket or t-shirt I could have?” 

I was shocked to think that someone would steal from a homeless man, but I didn’t have any spare garments to offer. I told him, “If you would’ve asked me yesterday, I would’ve given you two, but I just cleaned out my car.” His face filled with despondency. In a seemingly genuine tone he said, “Thank you. Have a nice night.” 

I felt terrible that he didn’t have anything to keep him warm, aside from one thin t-shirt. I had a v-neck sweater on and I was shivering.  

I thought, ‘Wow! He only has a t-shirt on so he must be colder than I am!’ I said, “Wait! Do you want this sweater I’m wearing?” His eyes lit up as though he won the Mega Millions jackpot. “Oh, yes please!” he replied. “Anything will help, I’m c-c-cold!”  

I took off the sweater and handed it to him.  

What happened next caught me completely off guard. He put his hands out, palms facing me, to signal me to stop. “Wait,” he said “You don’t have to give it to me now, you can take it off when you’re done pumping gas so you’re not cold.”  

Wow! I immediately got chills (and not from the windy weather!) I thought to myself, ‘How thoughtful of him to think about my comfort when he must have been exposed to the elements for God knows how long.’ I took my sweater off and gave it to him there and then. 

Then I asked his name. He said, “I’m Kevin.” I shook his frozen hand and said, “Nice to meet you, I’m Toan. Have a good night and God bless you.” His smile widened, revealing a mouth full of missing teeth.  

I rarely give to the homeless on the street, telling myself I have given up a lot since I have passed up lucrative job offers to build GoInspireGo, my organization that creates videos that inspire people to help others. But, this personal, raw, real connection and experience taught me that we are more interconnected than we think. Our actions, however small and unimportant we think them, could change how people treat others. No ripple is too small.

This experience taught me that there is more I can do, simple things like clearing out the many sweaters and jackets in my closet and donating them to folks like Kevin. In return, Kevin probably doesn’t know what ripple he created in me as I share this story with you and many others. He created a shift in me, raised my awareness and consciousness – and emblazoned his smile in my mind! I will never forget that.

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Since the news around here has been full of horror stories of poor dogs left in hot cars and a ridiculous over abundance of homeless cats filling up our local humane society, I thought I’d focus this round of Kindness Ideas on being kind to our four-legged friends.

Kindness to Animals

  • Adopt a homeless pet from the humane society.
  • Call an animal shelter and find out what donations they need. Collect treats, food, first aid supplies, toys, cat litter, towels, and soft blankets for the homeless animals.
  • Make a birdbath from a plastic dish and put it in your yard or on the windowsill. Keep it filled with water.
  • Make your own bird or bat house.
  • Make birdseed available to both migrating and local birds.
  • Notify authorities immediately about pets left in hot cars.
  • Talk to younger children about why catching wild creatures like frogs and turtles is not a good idea. Remind them that wild animals need to stay wild and free.
  • Make nutritional treats for dogs and cats, and give them to neighbors for their pets. Make extra for animal shelters.
  • Adopt a lion, tiger, whale, or other animal. Many zoos, aquariums, and animal sea habitats have adoption programs. In exchange for financial support, you get a photo and biography of your new adoptee. (Or sponsor a donkey from the Donkey Sanctuary of Canada! :))
  • Never tolerate animal cruelty; report suspected cruelty to the authorities, please do not take matters into your own hand.
  • Spray or neuter your pets and encourage friends, family members, neighbours, coworkers, and acquaintances to do the same.
  • Keep pets’ vaccinations current and visit your veterinarian regularly.

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What is the ultimate purpose of life?

It’s to give.

Absolutely incredible, please watch!

Anyone can change the world, just open your heart and start giving!

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“When we are devoted to the development of kindness it becomes a movement of the heart so deep and subtle it is like a movement of the sea close to the ocean floor, all but hidden, yet affecting absolutely everything that happens above. That’s the force of kindness.” ~ Sharon Salzberg

A little over a week ago, my favourite blogger (@ yearofkindness) created a kindness mission to celebrate her 100th day of kindness. She shared that her biggest wish was that her project (a year of kind acts) would inspire others to be kinder too. In hopes of taking her project to the next level and to make the project the best, most inspiring, most meaningful it can be, she had asked for audience participation on July 13th.

And I quote “Here’s my dream to celebrate 100 days of Year of Kindness: every person reading this blog performs a random act of kindness for a stranger on July 13th. Think about what would make your day a little brighter and do it for someone you don’t know. It does not have to be as big as giving away flowers or $10 (although that would be awesome), it could simply be writing a kind post-it note and leaving it in a public place. On the 13th I will be giving away flowers again, and considering how unexpectedly challenging this was the first time around, it would certainly give me an extra boost of kindness courage if I knew your lovely selves were out there in the world performing your own kindnesses too. And do let me know if you do, either by commenting or email: yearofkindness@gmail.com.”

Of course I had to jump on board and recruit myself to her Kindness Army. 🙂 I didn’t know what I was going to do but I just knew I had to participate and do something. I thought long and hard about all the little things I’ve been meaning to do and decided that this date, this deadline per se, was just the kick in the pants I needed.

I started the day by leaving a little smiley faced stone on one of the office lady’s desk (anonymously) for her to find when she got in. Once I got back to my own office, I noticed that we had a new contractor moving his office stuff over to our area so I immediately offered to help him carry stuff. After that, I unfortunately had to put my kind acts on hold for the next 8 hours as I was super busy at work but I certainly wasn’t done spreading the kindness for the day…

On my way home from work I played secret kindness ninja and left “Smile” envelopes under the wipers of cars parked in different lots (the mall, the grocery store, the flower nursery, the pet store, the school bus place…).

I also headed to a few houses in my neighbourhood and snuck the envelopes under their front mat for them to find when they get home.

What is a “Smile” envelope you might ask. Well, it is an envelope that contains a “smile stone” that I made as well as a cute smile stone poem. Its only intent is to bring a smile to the recipients face.

Next, I headed to the mall to purchase some flowers to give away. I was very, very nervous about this RAK but I just love flowers and assume that most other people love them too. I bought a bouquet of beautiful pink Gerber daisies. I asked the flower girl to put each one in an individual water canister so that they wouldn’t dry out. She had asked me if they were for a cemetery so I got to explain the kindness mission to her. She was absolutely blown away that anyone would do such a thing and discounted me the price of the flowers. I then gave her a Smile envelope (which almost made her cry) and headed off on my way.

With flowers in hand I approached my first “target”. With a great big smile plastered on my face, I kept my message short and sweet with an “Excuse me. I’m performing Random Acts of Kindness. Would you like a flower?” To my delight, she said “Oh yes, how wonderful. These are my favourite flowers. Thank you so much” to which I replied “You are very welcome! Have a wonderful day!”.  The next woman I approached said no thank you but all the others were quite happy and easily accepted my gift. I felt like I was on a roll so I went back and bought another bouquet. This time I drove to a new location and started my pitch all over again.

After all my flowers were gone, I headed to the grocery store to purchase some food for the local Food Bank. I looked online for their “most needed food items” and purchased 2 of each of the top 5 items (peanut butter, canned meat & fish, canned fruit, macaroni & cheese and tomatoes & sauce). I dropped my purchases off in the bin and headed back towards home.

But I had one last stop to make before my day of kindness was over. You see, with me, I had my copy of Eat, Pray, Love and I felt that I should really pay it forward instead of allowing it to collect dust on my bookshelf. So, I attached a bright purple post-it note that said “Hey you! Take me home. I’m Free!” and I left it out on a park bench at our neighbourhood park. Within an hour, the book was gone. Very happy in its new home, I’m sure.

Although I didn’t get everything accomplished that I wanted to (I tried to buy a lotto ticket for a stranger but the machine was broken) I still had a very successful, very kind, very rewarding day. I can’t thank Cat enough for all her inspiration. She really is the Kindness Guru leading us all in the right direction to a more kind and compassionate world. 🙂

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