I was a girl guide once. For about 3 months. A moment of feeling utterly embarrassed and completely crushed saw me leaving a meeting never to return.
I remember it vividly.
We had made a little cardboard mouse cutout with a tail of string. During the following week we were to complete at least 3 acts of service, tying a knot in the mousetail for each act. My neighbourhood was full of young families so I couldn’t find any old ladies to help across a road. I kept asking my mother earnestly what I could do to be helpful….. “brush your teeth and get ready for bed without me having to ask you”, she said (probably not paying 100% attention at the time!). So I did. The following week I carried my little cardboard mouse to the meeting, I had several knots and was feeling pretty happy until the others started sharing their grand deeds of carrying shopping, minding siblings and rescuing cats out of trees. My turn came and I was asked what I had done to be helpful. I replied “I brushed my teeth without being asked”. Cue loud laughter from peers and leaders alike resulting in one very humiliated little 8 year old. I never went back. I laugh about it now….. but it may be a reason why my daughter is in a co-ed scout group and not in Guides….
I still remember this story when I think of service or helping. Does it always have to be such grand gestures? For my 8 year old self to give my mother a break would be helpful. She didn’t need me to cook and clean, she just wanted a break from nagging me. It was probably what she needed that evening.
My brain has been mulling over this article from BBC News today http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-24548023.
Movements such as Random Acts Of Kindness have been springing up and I think they are a wonderful idea. A lot of us aren’t living in close-knit communities or extended families anymore. We live in large urban areas where we may move around quite detached from each other. It is easy to become insular and to just move about our own business from day to day, not truly noticing others. Big crisis situations tend to pull people together, but day to day?
Kindness movements are hoping to inspire a more outward-looking attitude. Helping us to think of ways to lift/cheer/help someone else. That can never be a bad thing, can it?
The article quotes a professor from Oakland University, Barbara Oakley (author of “Pathological Altruism”). Dr Oakley states that often a desire to help springs from narcissism. This statement has been percolating in my head on and off today. It is true that sometimes public policy, even with the best intentions, don’t have the desired effect and that sometimes the motivation behind a program is more about making an organisation or a government look good. Can the same thing be said about our individual acts of kindness?
I started thinking about my own motivations. Do I help out of duty? Do I help in order to look good? Do I only help people I like? Am I selective in the help I give? Do I give what is needed or what I perceive to be needed (are these the same?). All very “natural man”. Not what I am aiming for.
Kindness is “Charity 101”. I believe in kindness and in the principle expressed so beautifully in the Primary song:
“I want to be kind to ev’ryone,
For that is right, you see.
So I say to myself, “Remember this:
Kindness begins with me.”
I believe in John 13:34… we are to “Love one another”. Ultimately I aim to be able to feel a Christlike love towards everyone I meet. Sadly, not yet. But as Stephen R Covey said:
“Love is a verb. Love – the feeling – is the fruit of love the verb or our loving actions.”
I think that it doesn’t really matter what our motivation is to start with…. being kind makes you feel good and I think that even the most self serving individual would experience a change of heart with continued acts of kindness. Acts of kindness will become a feeling of kindness. Even if I have to start out looking for knots for a mousetail.