“A random act of kindness is an unexpected act of charity or helpfulness and is often done for a stranger.”
Whilst on the stand-up comedy course in Kingston, I met fellow funny person Harry Manley, and he set me a challenge to carry out 20 random acts of kindness in a day.
Now, my first reaction to that was “what a lovely challenge – something ‘nice’ instead of adrenalin-fuelled or scary”. But, once I thought about it, I realised 20 in a day is a lot, plus the very definition of random is that it’s unplanned. An act of kindness often occurs in the heat of the moment based on a perceived opportunity; I couldn’t just conjure up a cute old lady to help across the road, for example!
Hmmm… I needed a strategy (another one!)
I started gathering ideas for possible acts; jotting down suggestions as they popped up in a list on my phone. I also booked an appointment to give blood, because that would be a pretty major win. I then built the day of acts around my blood donation appointment, and my friend Michelle was able to take a CSR (corporate social responsibility) day off work in order to help me out with photography, moral support and crafting abilities.
The 20 acts
There’s no better way to blog about this than to list the acts I carried out, and a bit of blurb about each. Here goes, in order:
- My mate Kev works for The Vineyard Community Centre and Richmond Foodbank so I asked him if they were low on anything specific that I could donate. He immediately came back to say they needed tinned meat and fish, so I started at 12pm with a quick trip to the supermarket and then delivered a bag full of tins.
- Michelle and I parked ourselves in a coffee shop to do some planning, and to make some positive message cards (her crafting abilities came in handy here), and while there, I introduced myself to a chap called Bob who was sitting on his own. I gave him a ‘Smile’ message card and had a little natter. I’m not sure he was that impressed but he humoured me. It was a good warm up!
- I then took a photo of one of the message cards and sent it to a friend as a virtual hug. That was much appreciated, and well timed, from what I can gather.
- I’d put a few items that I no longer needed in a carrier bag ready to donate to a charity shop, so that was my next stop.
- There’s a brilliant café in Teddington that I go to regularly. The food is delish, good value, and fast, and the staff are friendly. So I wrote them a five star review on Facebook.
- I then did a 50 minute litter pick down one side of a street in Hampton Hill and back up the other. At first glance, it didn’t look like there was much to pick up, but once you look a bit closer… URGH!! Half a bin bag later, we’d netted a couple of used condoms, several empty fag packets, a soggy pair of child’s socks, a jay cloth, some electrical cable, four lighters, half a bag of boiled sweets, three batteries, blister packs from painkillers, a plastic straw, two or three broken glass bottles, loads of broken up polystyrene, numerous plastic bottles and a whole load of other detritus. We’d also been thanked by three people for tidying up the street.
- Next stop, a charity shop to make some purchases this time. I actually managed to buy some fabric for one of my future challenges (“to sew something wearable”), so that was a brilliant find!
- It was then time for lunch and I wanted to support a local independent café, so where better than the one I’d written the recommendation for! Café Mimmo in Broad Street, Teddington, never disappoints.
- Tesco is directly opposite, so I went in after lunch to buy some flowers to give to a stranger. Just ahead of me in the queue was a lovely elderly gentleman whose name I forgot to get in all the excitement, so I surprised him by paying for his shopping. He was so grateful and left with a smile on his face. Mission accomplished.
- With flowers in hand, I was out on the street looking for a worthy recipient to pounce on (not literally!) I spotted an older lady up ahead with a shopping bag that she’d be able to put the flowers in. Bingo. Again, I forgot to ask her name, but she was so chuffed and said she’d go home and tell her family but they probably wouldn’t believe her.
- In the charity shop, Michelle found a really cute book for a child. We were deciding how to gift it when she spotted a young mum with her little boy across the road. We dashed over and offered her the book. It turned out she was en route to the library so our timing was perfect, and she also was very grateful!
- Before leaving the high street, I ran around and put the little positive message cards on car windscreens. More about that in a minute…
- By this time, it was 4.30pm and time to go and donate blood. Sadly, after an hour and a half and several checks and questions, the nurse concluded I couldn’t give blood at the moment due to some ongoing investigative work that I’m having done. I was gutted, but I’ll be back in November once I have a diagnosis and we can be sure I’m cleared to give blood.
- Back home in the evening and I was exhausted, but I had more to do. Whilst in Tesco buying the flowers and paying for the gentleman’s shopping, I’d encountered the loveliest of cashiers who was really interested in what I was doing. She had asked if we’d be happy to write a review about our experience in the shop that day, so I sat and completed that, being sure to include her name for a special mention.
- With my feet up, it was time to reach out to a family member. I’ve been meaning to phone them for weeks and never seemed to find the time for a proper natter but this challenge encouraged me to make the time. It really is as simple as that. One hour and 45 minutes later, we finally put the phone down. It was good to catch up! And I won’t leave it so long next time.
- Another of my purchases from the charity shop was a thank you card for my neighbours, who very kindly rescued and took care of my plants during the heatwave of the last few weeks as I was (ironically) away housesitting and looking after pets for other people.
- I also bought a pack of little notelets and used a couple to write thank you notes to two significant people who’ve helped and supported me a lot with work and personal stuff over the last few years.
- Up and at ‘em the next morning to complete my 20 acts and, after posting the cards, I complimented a lady on the lovely dress she was wearing. We exchanged a smile and were both a little happier.
- Then I bought coffee and cakes for Kev and his colleague at the foodbank. It’s hard work, emotionally and practically, and is often thankless, so I wanted to give them a little treat.
- I finished my 24 hours of acts of kindness with a two hour stint of volunteering at the food bank. I helped to sort a delivery of food from Waitrose and Sainsbury’s, and learned lots about the system, the networks, how it all works, etc.
Good for the soul
What a wonderful experience this challenge was; humbling, and good for the soul. I surprised myself by being stupidly embarrassed about going up to complete strangers and giving them flowers or paying for their shopping. I’m usually a really outgoing, empathetic person and I talk to strangers all the time but this felt different. I guess it was a little forced, which takes me back to my earlier point about random acts of kindness requiring a degree of serendipity.
But it was good. I made people smile, I brought a tiny bit of happiness to what might have been an otherwise uneventful day for a few people. And, who knows, maybe I inspired them to pay forward a kind gesture?
I was extremely grateful to have Michelle with me, especially due to feeling uncharacteristically shy. Actually, I was overthinking things and that’s what hindered me. I’d usually act on impulse, but because I was being deliberate I tied myself up in knots of embarrassment.
Was I in trouble?
Anyway, remember I mentioned the message cards I put on the car windscreens? Later that day, I received a message from a friend with a photo of one of our cards attached saying “was this you?” At first I wasn’t sure whether to own up – was I in trouble? But, then, I figured it can’t be a bad thing to try and spread a bit of kindness.
It turned out I’d unknowingly put the card on the car of a lady I sort of know but haven’t met in person yet. She’s involved with one of my future challenges, and she’s going through a tough time at the moment so my card gave her a much-needed smile! Now, that’s serendipity…