Last month I discussed the idea of giving in a relationship – I was describing the act of unconditional giving, an important element of unconditional love. To give for the sheer joy of giving and not need anything in return, is the essence of a loving and successful relationship. This started me thinking about the power of small acts of giving – what I am calling here small acts of kindness. These small gestures have the power to transform our relationships by showing that we care for the people we love. It is also one of the quickest ways to escape from a spiral of negative emotions that we might find ourselves in.
One of the most touching acts of kindness that I have ever witnessed was when I was out with a friend having lunch. The café was busy and we had a nice meal. As we went up to the counter to pay, my friend quietly spoke to the café owner and said that she wanted to pay for the elderly couple’s meal who had been seated at the table next to us. The wife was severely handicapped and the husband was clearly a devoted carer. My friend paid and we walked out without a fuss.
This was quite a large act of kindness, given the relatively large sum of money my friend parted with, but the importance of this story is that she gave this gift without any desire for gratitude or the couple ever seeing or meeting the person who had bought them their dinner. It was a truly unconditional act of giving and if I hadn’t asked about it as we walked away from the café, that would have been the end of it. I asked her why she did something so generous in that anonymous way and she said that it made her feel happy to imagine the delight of the couple when they discovered that somebody had given them the gift of the meal. She also wanted to give them something because life had obviously dealt them a challenging hand.
I was very moved by this act of kindness but it also made me feel guilty because I could not imagine myself doing something like that for complete strangers. I do my best to be kind but when I think about it, most of this is focussed family members, friends and colleagues. While I have been writing this article I have been wondering how much of my giving has an element of condition within it – the expectation that my giving will be rewarded in some way.
In the example I have just described there was a reward but not in the way that we might think – the reward was in the act of giving itself. My friend was rewarded because of the love she gave. The love would have been accompanied by a focus on the couple, as well as feelings of compassion and appreciation. She then had an urge to give to them in a more formal way. This is a crucial principle for our learning and healing and one that we would do well to apply to all our relationships. It is through true and unconditional giving that we receive. By the same measure, as soon as we have a need, demand or we try to take something, we begin to suffer. We are often so busy trying to ‘get’ that we forget how to receive.
During this next month I am going to find some opportunities for some small acts of kindness and I invite you to do the same. These do not need to be grand gestures. It could be a kind word to the check-out assistant at the supermarket or an appreciative thank you to somebody who has helped us. Or it could be preparing a surprise breakfast in bed or dinner for our partners. The possibilities are endless. If you do find yourself giving, make sure that the gift is unconditional. If you find yourself needing a reward just re-connect with the person you are giving to and notice how great you feel when you give. Small acts of kindness are like little miracles and they do change the world for the better!
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