So why random acts of kindness? Why not just kindness? What is it that makes unexpected kindness better than expected kindness?
Expected kindness is taken for granted
There are occasions when kindness is expected, almost obligatory, such as a birth, a death, a wedding, etc. and if we don’t get kindness and consideration then we get resentful. If we expect kindness and don’t get it then it can leave a bad taste in the mouth.
In fact, it can lead to divided families and fights! Weddings are notorious for arguments – expectations not met …on either side. Relatives who expected to be invited and the bride and groom expecting everyone to understand that they can’t afford to invite hordes of people. Everyone expecting kindness and everyone disappointed, which can make people behave really badly.
Expected kindness is dangerous – for some reason we are more upset when we expect something. We maybe take it for granted that we will get kindness, understanding, even presents and if they don’t appear, it’s worse than if we didn’t anticipate them.
Unexpected kindness is thrilling!
On the other hand, when we have no expectations and we get a lovely surprise, we are thrilled. As a therapist, I expect to be paid for my work and that’s gratitude enough.
However, sometimes I get flowers from clients who want to do that little bit extra to express gratitude and that always makes my week. The money is nice, but the sincere extra expression of gratitude is wonderful. It somehow says that I have done better than expected – done a good job, provided more than the client asked for.
Maybe the difference is between doing what is expected of you – what you ‘have’ to do and doing the unexpected, what you ‘wanted’ to do.
The extra mile – Toll Booth man
Why do some people go the extra mile? Are they kinder than most? Better people? Or is it just a matter of simple opportunity? You may have heard of the toll booth story (it’s become an urban myth). The way it goes is this: One morning a man who was having a good day decided to spread a little joy, so at a toll booth, he decided to not only pay for himself but the car behind him. The person behind him decided to send the little gift on so they paid for the car behind … and so it went on for dozens of cars until one grumpy bugger broke the chain of kindness. I have no idea if this is a true story or not, but if it is, imagine the dozens of people that had a lovely start to their day … and passed some happiness on, probably. One small act of kindness may have positively affected hundreds of people that day – how fantastic would that have been?
Something for nothing
How does payback affect unexpected kindness? Maybe expected kindness is assumed, so it loses its value? Is there any genuine act of kindness or is it just because we want some form of payback? In which case, is kindness even real? Or just an attempt to make us feel good about ourselves? A chance to get something back?
A lovely man I know puts the odd £10 tucked behind tins in a supermarket with a little note wishing whoever finds it health and happiness. He calls it ‘passing it on’ and doesn’t stay to watch who finds it because he wants no payback. He simply hopes it goes to someone who needs it and that it helps them a little. I think that is as close to unselfish, genuine kindness that you can get. Totally unexpected kindness, no payback expected, except maybe a warm fuzzy feeling that you have done something good, spread a little kindness in the world.
It’s always that little bit extra that makes the difference. For example, don’t just buy The Big Issue, get the seller a hot drink and a muffin. Do something nice to let them know somebody cares.
Kind people make a kind world
Unexpected kindness helps people believe in a kind world. Kindness that is simply motivated by the desire to do something nice for someone is precious. When you look at a newspaper or hear the news it’s hard to see any kindness. In a world where Trump wants to build walls against his neighbours, where children starve and are abused, where terrorists spread hate and fear, it is easy to believe that this is all there is, that the world we live in is just hate and misery… a world full of sorrow.
The trick to happiness is to notice the small joys, the mother kissing her child, the friend ready to listen with love and sympathy, the person ready to go out of their way to help a stranger, the time that somebody did one small thing to make someone else happy. Kindness to strangers seems even better because there is no obvious payback, making it a truly selfless act.
I think that’s what makes an unexpected kind act so good – it’s as selfless an act as you can get – a selfless act in what can be a selfish world. It’s an example of what we are capable of and can restore our faith in humanity.
Parents and kindness
Parenting can be a hard place to be unexpectedly kind. Children can be very self-centred and selfish and always expect a lot from their parents. They expect to be fed, loved, nurtured and that their parents will put them first at all times. So surprising them with something extra is a big ask as they expect everything! Plus, to delight a demanding teenager is almost impossible.
Often we have to say no, which seems unkind to an unreasonable child. The fact that we are saying no for very good reasons doesn’t compute with them. We need to play the hard, unbending parent because we know what they want is bad for them. Giving children everything they want is spoiling them not teaching them what they need to understand about life. Cruel to be kind, so to speak – an unexpected way to be kind
However, although children may perceive us as unkind and unreasonable, so the odd unexpected kindness when we can manage it can be helpful. An unexpected loving gesture, unexpected forgiveness, can go a long way towards building bridges when you feel they are distant. It doesn’t have to be money or presents – throwing money at them is mostly not truly appreciated. An example is a friend who decorated her daughter’s room while she was in brownies – it was a total surprise and a total success. It was hard work and an act of love, unasked for, but much appreciated. Would the daughter have been as thrilled if she had asked for it and expected it? Probably not.
Just do it!
Doing something unexpected and kind can be like a drip into a pond, the ripples can spread further than we might think. So, the next time you have a chance to delight someone, in however small a way, follow through. Just do it. You might be surprised at how wonderful it makes you feel.