Ripples of kindess (a Toastmasters speech)

Saleh, one of my fellow Toastmasters, often makes reference to the collective responsibility we all have when a crime is committed.  Rather than expressing his outrage- like far too many people do on facebook related to, for example, the dreadful rape and murder of little Courtney Pieters- he expresses sorrow for the deed, as if he had played an active role in the murder.  I find this irritating.  But I find it irritating, probably because it is truer than I like to admit.

You see, for a while now, I have been aware of a hardening in myself.  A disconnecting from the hardships I see around me.  And I know why I am hardened.  It is a coping mechanism.  So that I can drive under a bridge that people have made their shelter and be OK with the fact that I have a car, with heated seats, and a house, while those people don’t.

I think I have built up walls- like one would around a dam to collect water- I have built walls around my kindness, and I am only being kind to those that are within those walls.  Otherwise, I fear, the needs are so huge, that I would simply be completely sucked dry of kindness.

It feels like EVERYONE is crying out for love and kindness in South Africa.  Their cries are becoming louder and louder and more and more violent, because they are being ignored.

As a parent, we learn that negative behaviour is really a shout out for love.  I am doing a parenting course at the moment, and the facilitator says that, in fact, every day as a parent, we are asked 3 questions by our children.  And these are the questions:

Can you hear me?  Can you see me?  Do I matter?

To far too many people in our nation, the answer to these questions, as they have been asked throughout their childhoods and as adults is, “No, you don’t matter.  I don’t see you.  I don’t hear you.  You don’t matter.”

The needs are so great, that it just all feels completely overwhelming for any one individual to even make the smallest dent.  I worry that extending my kindness beyond that dam wall, will mean I am sucked dry of love, of money, of everything and there will simply be nothing left of me.  Added to that, it feels like small, achievable acts of kindness are simply not going to have any impact.  How can we make a difference with our limited capacity for loving, our limited resources when the needs are so huge?

In following the rape and murder case of Franciska Blochliger, I realised something.  Howard Oliver, her rapist and killer, had asked for a R300 loan from his boss on the morning of the murder.  And, as had probably been the case for the whole of his life, he was denied the loan.  He had reached out, but was told no, you odn’t matter.  And that was a tipping point for him.  And he went out looking to hurt, to steal, to rape and to kill.  Of course, drugs played a role and this was a man with 10 prior convictions.  But still.  Perhaps, if he had been show a bit of kindness on that day, if he had been seen as a human being, Franciska would be alive today.  A tiny act of kindness- and I am not saying his boss should have given him the money- but just heard him, seen him and acknowledged him- that could well have made a BIG difference here.  So small things DO make a difference.  The recipient of a kind gesture will, almost without thinking, pass the kindness on.

Enlightened by this realisation, I happened to catch a radio interview with the creator of a new game of cards, called the Game for Humanity.  And I was inspired to buy a pack.  Well, actually, I bought 2.  Here is one of them.  On the box it reads “spreading positive gestures, one game at a time”.  The idea is that each card has a kind task on it.  And you can play the game in a variety of ways.

As some of you know, I have taken up the challenge of posting something on facebook about my day for which I am grateful for 100 days straight.  Now, what has been so interesting for me about this, is that the public accountability I feel, simply because I have to post to facebook, has really made me stick to the challenge.  I just KNOW that if, for example, the challenge had been to jot down a grateful moment in a journal, there is simply no way I would have managed to do it daily.  So, using this knowledge of myself, I added to my gratitude challenge and am doing a 30 day kindness challenge!  I draw a card each day and I have to complete that task and post to facebook about it.

I was truly terrified to pull that first card.  Luckily, the first 3 acts of kindness were ones for family members- so people within my walls of kindness and they felt easy.  As the days have gone by, I have been challenged in multiple ways!  I have had to approach those very people living under the bridge and bring them cups of steaming hot coffee; I have had to pay for parking for a very surprised middle-aged man; I have bought lunches for car-guards; tipped a waitress 50% of the bill; bought vegetables and helped prepare vegetables for a soup kitchen; donated blood for the very first time; bought flowers for a stranger; and in the process have opened myself up to the phenomenal kindness and friendliness that exists in our shared humanity.  Huge waves of kindness have flown back to me.  You see, what I had not realised is that kindness flows so easily- once those walls have come down- both ways.

In the words of Scott Adams (a cartoonist, and cartoonists are so often so wise!)

Remember there is no such thing as a small act of kindness.  Every act creates a ripple with no logical end.