Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The Kindness Project: Choose Your Weapon

Too often kindness is relegated to a random act performed only when we’re feeling good. But an even greater kindness (to ourselves and others) occurs when we reach out even when we aren't feeling entirely whole. It’s not easy, and no one is perfect. But we’ve decided it’s not impossible to brighten the world one smile, one kind word, one blog post at a time. To that end, a few of us writers have established The Kindness Project, starting with a series of inspirational posts. We post the second Wednesday of every month.

In my work, we talk a lot about avoiding "random acts of intervention."

It's kind of like "random acts of kindness". You know, because both are random.

Don't get me wrong. I think random acts of kindness are really cool (unlike random acts of intervention). But this is what I love about The Kindness Project: it's not random.

It's intentional.

When I say "random acts of intervention", I mean that a therapist is just doing what feels right in the moment. The intervention isn't really connected to thought or plan or causal model or anything like that--it's just what seems obvious or easy or well-understood. It looks good on its face.

The problem: it's usually not the most effective thing to do.

I'm not saying that random acts of kindness are the same way. Not at all. There's something lovely and wondrous about brightening the world in a generous and unexpected way.

That being said, purposefulness is pretty valuable. Many years ago, a book called "The 5 Love Languages" came out. It's kind of a pop psychology book. No research to back it up, as far as I know (and that's important to me--I value empirical evidence). However, the idea is intensely appealing (as evidenced by the book's bestseller status), and what I like about it is this: it's about considering the best way to show love--in the way that the recipient is most likely to fully receive it.

Whether it's words of encouragement and affirmation, spending uninterrupted (devices off!) time, giving gifts, performing acts of service, or offering physical comfort, kindness can be offered in ways tailored to the recipient.

I like that. It means you can be intentional--instead of random--when you decide how to extend kindness to someone. You can choose your target, and choose your weapon.

It's not always possible or necessary. Kindness in whatever form is a positive thing. But ...

Who do you know who could use a little kindness? What do you know about him/her? Does he like practical help with a specific task or a little note at his desk telling him he did a good job with a presentation? Does she seem to enjoy hugs or pats on the back, or does her face really light up when you deliver a cup of iced coffee out of the blue? Does he appreciate it when you just sit in silence with him? Does she like it when you let her know specifically how much you admire something she does well?

What might work for that person--which kindness would have the greatest impact for her or him specifically? Which method would burrow deepest into his heart and warm it from the inside? Which one will linger with her the longest? Which one will come to mind in a time of sadness and give him what he needs to hang on?

We're not all the same. Different things work for different folks.

What do you think? I think we can all agree that kindness is to be prized--but how do you feel when you KNOW that someone has directed a kindness at you--and specifically you, with consideration of what you might need, how it might affect you as a unique individual? Do you think that's different? Have you done that for someone else?

Posting today for the Kindness Project

Sophia Chang                        
Sara Larson
Erica Chapman                      
Matthew MacNish
Jessica Corra                         
Sara McClung
Elizabeth Davis                      
Christa Desir                          
Leigh Moore                           
Tracey Neithercott
Claire Hennessy                    
Katharine Owen
Elana Johnson
Elizabeth Poole
Liza Kane
Lola Sharp
Amie Kaufman
Michele Shaw
Alina Klein                              
Meagan Spooner
Carolina Valdez Miller

 Be sure to check them out. We post the second Wednesday of every month. Want to join us? Grab our button and spread a little kindness.

*Also, there's still time to win an ARC of SANCTUM and a map of the dark city! If you're interested, go here and comment. I'll announce the winner on Monday.


  1. Great concept. I'll be checking them out.

  2. Uh, am I allowed to enter that contest? ;-)

    And as for kindness. You know, I think a friendly smile goes a long, long way. And even though I'm crazy shy in person, I do my best to be kind to those who look like could use some cheering up. And for me? When someone it kind to me I actually have hard time saying thank you. Is that weird?


  3. I love the idea of intentional kindness. I think that's the best because it feels very close to love. At the very least, it feels like someone noticed. We as humans can all use a little of this. Good post, Sarah.

  4. Beautiful endeavor and I love the new image for the project. A little something every day really does go a long way.

  5. I definitely try to shape kindness to the person--when I can. Because when it happens for me, it feels even better! But it depends on how well you know someone. Like my husband, I know the little things that will help his day go smoother. But an overall kind attitude toward strangers (basics like holding doors open, helping someone shorter reach something on a higher shelf, letting someone go in front of me at the grocery story because I have a huge cart and they've got a small basket) are more blanketed.

  6. I think kindness in all shapes is a good thing. We could all use a little more in our lives, make the world a better place.

  7. I love the idea of kindness as intentional, something thought out and planned. Something that takes the other person into consideration. Random is great and happy, too, but kindness tailored to the receiver (rather than the giver)? That feels kind of revolutionary, mostly because of the amount of thought behind it. And yet, not really as hard as all that. You just have to be observant, I think. Really great post, Sarah.

  8. YES. Intentional kindness is so badass! <3

    You're right, random kindness is lovely...smiling at a stranger, paying for the coffee of the person behind you in line, holding the door for someone, all wonderful and kind things we should all do. It's fun to be a kindness ninja! :)

    But intentional, purposeful, thoughtful, specific kindness IS revolutionary (as Carol said). It is called love. Radical indeed. Badass. <3

  9. It's that part about taking someone's individual needs into consideration that really separates random kindness from radical kindness. I love the way you explained it. While random acts of kindness are great and lovely; it's the radical kindness than can truly change lives, IMO. Thank you for this post!

  10. So true that different personalities react in their own way to offers of kindness or in their requests for it. It's another reason that taking the time to know people makes you a better friend in so many ways. You understand them and what they need. Then it's easy to be intentional. I love random acts of kindness as too, but a well thought out gesture is priceless!

  11. Tailored kindness is taking intentional to a whole new level! I love this. Also, I have to say that your last kp post really stuck with me this month while spending time with my kids.

  12. Good point. Kindness needs to be specific to have the most impact.

  13. So, you're saying that a non-random, intentional act of kindness actually considers what the recipient wants or needs, not what the giver feels like doing? Great concept!

    This reminds me of a post my husband sent me on words that don't exist in English. I was struck by this Japanese word, which seems to relate to your point:

    Arigata-meiwaku (Japanese): An act someone does for you that you didn’t want to have them do and tried to avoid having them do, but they went ahead anyway, determined to do you a favor, and then things went wrong and caused you a lot of trouble, yet in the end social conventions required you to express gratitude.

    That's not the sort of kindness you're talking about, huh? I'll be a good blogger and credit the source:

  14. Oh, great food for thought. It would make the impact of the kindness greater if it's tailored to the recipient!

  15. I'm glad to see you got the HTML/compose/hyperlink thing worked out.

    Kindness is funny for me. I don't really think about it that much. Being nice is just kind of who I am. I've always lived with the philosophy that what goes around comes around, so I just do nice things all the time, hoping that it will come back, but not really worrying about whether it does.

    I think that's why The Kindness Project is a little different to me. It's about doing something concerted that's above and beyond the norm. Now the hard part is figuring out exactly what that is for me.

  16. I do try to tailor my kindnesses, but I know sometimes I miss an opportunity that makes me frustrated later. My task is to pay more attention to who might need an act of kindness.

  17. It's so important-- it's like gift-giving. Nothing is worse than getting a gift that does not consider "you" at all, but instead feels like something the person felt they were "supposed" to do. I've never thought of tailoring kindness in the same way-- and I like it. Thanks for the idea.

  18. That is the best, because it's not just a random act--it's thought out and careful. That is a very, very good thing.

  19. Kindness in any form is good, but intentional kindness directed at someone specific is really amazing. And can work wonders. Great post, very thought-provoking.

  20. I LOVE LOVE LOVE this idea. That you can tailor an act of kindness to the person, and not just what you feel like doing at the time. I've read *The 5 Love Languages* and while I too was annoyed at the lack of evidence, it's helped me put things into perspective.

    Too often I think we're focused on ourselves. What makes us feel good, what makes us feel special and loved...and there's nothing wrong with that, but I love the idea of trying to understand where the other person is coming from. Instead of brushing off what someone else does for me, I try to take the time to understand what it means to them. Hugging people is no problem for me, but for others it's a big deal, and I try to understand that.

    It's enriched my relationships so much!

    Great post!

  21. Such a good post. I think it's important to remember that the kind thing you maybe want to do isn't the best kind thing for the person. Sometimes the kindest thing you can do for someone else isn't the easiest or most pleasant thing to do. Years ago, I had a friend who was recovering from breast cancer (cancer free for two years!), and the ladies from the community church would come by and bring all kinds of cookies and cakes and want to stay and wish her well. It was a nice thought, a kind gesture. But they didn't take into account that after radiation and work, she was tired. And also diabetic, so she didn't really have use for the sweets. Again, it was a kind gesture on their part...but a kinder gesture would have been to ditch the sweets and offer to clean the kitchen while she had a nap.

  22. Oh I love this!! it's about considering the best way to show love--in the way that the recipient is most likely to fully receive it. What a cool way of looking at it. I mean, we're not all the same, right? So why not tailor our kindness interventions to each person. Fantastic advice!!

  23. Great post! One size doesn't fit all (sorry for the cliche), even when it comes to acts of kindness. A act that one person might appreciate might make another person feel awkward. The more you know about the person the better.

  24. wow--that's very interesting to me about "random acts of intervention." I would've expected that to be okay. Sort of like acting on educated instinct. But I totally see how it can be not the best approach. I mean, it makes me think of when I shoot off an email reply and then go... "d'oh!" If only that "undo" function actually worked on email. ;p

    But yes, tailoring our acts of kindness is a fantastic way of making intentional kindness count. I never took that Love Languages quiz, but it sounds interesting. Maybe I'll give it to my little family members... :o) <3

  25. I remember hearing some time ago about how women show love by being emotionally supportive or doing little acts like always folding his laundry without him asking, making his favorite dinner, and so on. Men, on the other hand, express love physically. Your post reminded me of that because intentional kindness would be like saying, "You know, I prefer people to show me kindness by building me up when I'm feeling down, but I'm going to show that person kindness by randomly giving him a hug." I agree that it's more meaningful if you know it was done with you in mind.