Let’s stop the misguided celebration of random acts of kindness

Be kind; everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle. (Somebody)

I am a regular user of a certain form of social media (which shall remain nameless because I don’t want the All-SeeingSuckerBorg to read this and start sending me personalized messages. Plus, the way I just said “regular user” makes me think I need help. I admit I am powerless.)

Anyway, in that space it has been all the rage lately to share stories with headlines like: “Man Pays Restaurant Tab for Single Mom” and “Burger King Employee Holds Umbrella for Disabled Customer.” Usually the person posts the story saying something like “This restores my faith in humanity.” These things do (sometimes) warm the heart to varying degrees, but there is also a sense that one is whistling in the dark, offering slim evidence that, despite all evidence to the contrary, people are still basically good.

GAAH! My problem is not with acts of kindness, of course. My problem is that if a teensy, sentimental confection restores your faith in humanity, you haven’t been paying enough attention. Let’s wake up, people! For God’s sake! Goodness permeates our world. In the great tale of the creation of the world (Genesis & 2), God declares Creation to be good. To my knowledge this announcement has not been rescinded.

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A generous person will be enriched, and one who gives water will get water. Proverbs 11:15 (NRSV)

YES: People are screw-ups (starting with Adam and Eve.) And YES: sometimes all the sadness and badness tempts us to lose faith. But I say to you this Truth: every day, lots and LOTS of people do the right, kind thing over and over.  The Truth of the matter is that kindness is, actually, all around. All the time. We do humanity an injustice by acting all surprised at the good news packaged in National Enquirer-type headlines. Sensationalizing anything robs it of its power. Love has great power, and the power of Love will win. (If you need a boost, I recommend listening to David Wilcox’s Show the Way.)

Some years ago, when the expression “practice random acts of kindness and senseless beauty” started gaining traction, there was a kind of post-70s sweetness to it. It was a nice thought and made a swell bumper sticker. (The idea has its own Wikipedia article, by the way.) But once any movement becomes self-aware, it starts to go stale, and people get jaded. Throw in a few catastrophic, world-wide disasters, and over the years a kind of Bad News Hypnosis has set in. We must practice not only doing the acts of kindness themselves (random… senseless… hey, whatever works for you) we have to practice seeing kindness in the world, too.

In this week where the Episcopal Church’s calendar celebrated the 50th anniversary of the death of C.S. Lewis (the same day last week as that other anniversary): I offer this bracing bit from Puddleglum the Marshwiggle: “Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things-trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. Suppose we have…Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one. And that’s a funny thing, when you come to think of it…I’m on Aslan’s side even if there isn’t any Aslan to lead it. I’m going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn’t any Narnia.” (The Silver Chair, 1953)

P.S. OK, I admit that this story, involving a crap-ton of volunteers and thousands of dollars to make one kid’s wish come true? I really love this. It kind of restores my faith in humanity.

P.P.S. What kindness have you done or received recently?

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