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Spreading smiles around the world

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There are many ways we can make a difference in the world.  One of the most fun and fulfilling for me is to do spontaneous acts of kindness, with a big emphasis on the “spontaneous” part of it — more about why later.  After meeting Nipun Mehta in 2005, at a gathering in Colorado about Love, Evolution and Philanthropy, I felt inspired to join Help Others (later renamed Kindspring), an online community of folks who enjoy doing random acts of kindness and then share these stories on the site to inspire each other.

Kindspring is a volunteer-run venture that was started by Nipun, his wife Guri, and a couple of their friends.  It has now grown into a worldwide army of +80,000 earth angels who like to play a game of tag which involves doing something nice for others, and leaving a smile card behind inviting them to pay it forward.  This has become one of my favorite games.  It can take all kinds of forms, from paying the toll for the next car behind me, leaving a hand written thank you note for a waitress, giving flowers to the cashier, anonymously picking up someone’s bill at a local cafe, or giving your attention to a stranger who is needing to talk.  The possibilities are endless.

The stories on the Kindspring site are excellent medicine for those moments when you need your faith in humanity restored!  I recommend reading a few of them if you want to sprinkle some extra joy and inspiration over your day. You could begin with Love and Inspiration from Japan, about acts of kindness in the aftermath of the 2011 earthquake.

There are now thousands of subscribers to the Smile newsletter which goes out weekly, and it keeps growing.   Nipun Mehta is someone whom I consider to be one of the great ambassadors of the true spirit of philanthropy, defined as love (philos) of humanity (anthropos). His point is very simple: anyone can do it!  It does not actually take any money, although giving it away is also a good thing! I invite you to watch his Tedx talk about three stages of generosity.

Although I am someone who likes to focus on ‘root causes’ and systems change, reading Kindspring stories reminds me that at the end of the day, there are very few things that are more transformative than being kind to others.  It may strike some of us as too simple to be true, but the fact is that if we all did it consistently, we would organically and effortlessly start dismantling a great deal of our dysfunctional systems and ways of operating: social inequities, all forms of bigotry, wars, corporate greed, the rapid destruction of our natural world through crazy agricultural, energy and consumption practices.  The ‘root cause’ of a lot of those things is a failure to respect, honor, listen to, appreciate, and care for life, whether in the form of people or other species.   I am embarrassed to say that in my graduate student days, I would just have dismissed what Nipun and the Kindspring tribe are up to as being a naive approach to social change.  Today, I am convinced that it is one of the most effective ways to lastingly change the world!  I mean: bringing love and caring into all our systems (education, finance, business, energy, government, mainstream philanthropy etc), how would that be for a revolution?  What I’m also learning is that loving the folks with whom we don’t find ourselves naturally inclined to connect really takes practice and commitment!  The heart is one of those muscles which we don’t often take the time to exercise, but truly amazing things can happen when we start working it out!   Check out this story (No Glass Ceiling, Just Blue Sky) about the act of kindness that allowed Alexander Fleming, who was the son of a farmer, to make it across England’s entrenched class lines to discover penicillin!   According to wikipedia, that story is actually a fable and not historically accurate, but you’ll still get the point, or rather the possibility!

And for those of you who are currently caring for an elder in your life, you might love this “Unforgettable Fishing Experience” which was written and posted by someone else.  I’m also including a link to another story I wrote in 2007, about my heart-to-heart encounter with my building’s garbage man!

So, you are hereby invited to join the merry tribe of folks who a performing simple acts of kindness toward friends and strangers.  Here are a bunch of ideas to get started!   And if you already belong to that tribe, please contribute your stories to the site and inspire others.  You can also read some of my own stories here.