This is my daily effort to discover good things people do around the planet. I’m planning to engage in these searches six days a week. I will gladly post your contributions regarding good human behavior, no matter how trivial they may seem to you (or, frankly, to me). Please join me on this trip and tell your friends.


Bad Weather, Good People?

It’s obvious that the harsh weather we’ve been having in most of these United States is also bringing out the best in people. I suspect that we’re hard-wired this way, to become "human beings" in the face of adversity. I suppose this begs the question whether we remain human later on, when the emergency is long gone and we turn our backs on the more mundane, less heroic sources of adversity. I expect this should be the mission of this new news portal: to pursue and examine the best in the human spirit 24/7.

This item, a letter to the Topeka Capital-Journal yesterday, is a typical weather-kindness story:
Neighbor uses tractor to clear driveways

During the recent heavy snows, my neighbor Gregg Hass used his tractor and snow blade to clear the driveways of his neighbors, clearing mine three different times. He did this without being asked to or without pay, one time working at 6 a.m. so his neighbors could get out for work. Thanks Gregg!
Tom Rogers, of Berryton

The same page in the TCJ offers a story about Trooper Lane Larimer, who saved a family of Manhattanites stuck on Interstate 70 en route to Arkansas, with the wind chill close to zero and a flat tire; a thank-you note to Matt and Larry of Topeka, who "removed snow from our sidewalks every time we've had snow this winter;" and the short item Neighbors assist elderly couple, from Gordy and Eleanor Brunott, in their 80s, whose neighbors Nancy and Charlie O'Hara "bring us our paper, put up our garbage container, and always clear snow on our walk and driveway."

2. The Abundance of "Random Acts of Kindness"

This was an eye opener, especially for a novice like myself, looking to explore the mysterious continent of human good behavior, only to discover it’s been long inhabited and, actually, thriving, thank you very much.. The Daily Star - Otsego, Delaware, Chenango and Schoharie ran a story yesterday, titled: 

Students turn to Facebook to do 'random acts of kindness"

A second-grade class at Center Street Elementary School is getting worldwide attention for promoting good deeds. The class started a page on the social network site Facebook about a month ago promoting "random acts of kindness," teacher Colleen Andrew said.

Both Andrew and her 17 students have been surprised at the response, she said. More than 15,000 people worldwide have visited the site Mrs. Andrew's 2nd Grade Kindness Project.

While most of the responses have come from the United States, the students have made fans with people from other countries, including Australia, South Korea and Singapore. They have set a goal of 1 million fans, she said. Several of the students in her class, all 7 years old, said they were pleased with the results.

"We keep getting fans," Mary Brantley said. "That is really fun. They send notes saying it is a great idea."

The class handed out grocery-store gift cards worth $5 in December on Main Street and is holding a fundraising read-a-thon that will be used to fund a similar activity later this month, Andrew said.

OK, nice, heart-warming item, right? Here’s the twist: in searching for Mrs. Andrew’s Facebook page, I discovered no less than 550 groups, every one of which took the title "Random Acts of Kindness." The largest is Random Acts of Kindness (naturally) which boasts 19,347 members, which declares: Let’s unite and become positive agents of change by doing something good for someone once per day. But there’s also Random Acts of Kindness with 527 members, whose daily (and only, so far) RA of K has been: smiling at someone on a flight and making them laugh "oh there it is, we can finally see the ground!"

As you right-arrow through the Facebook pages, the number of fans for each RA of K page starts diminishing significantly, and you start having inevitable notions about getting all these folks together into one enormous RAoK special interest group to lobby Congress about stuff – which, of course, defeats the purpose of the entire thing.

The absolutely smallest RAoK group on Facebook, with 2 members, is called Fans of Random Acts of Love & Kindness. Its most recent (yes, it’s also the only bit of news there) is: Life is good - we are the change we want to see.

3. It Always Goes Back to Ol’ Hillel

One of the notes on Mrs. Andrew's 2nd Grade Kindness Project started me thinking. It came from Vicki Porter Pasterik, who wrote: We are a homeschool family with 8 kids. We were just talking at lunch today about the Golden Rule (Treat others the way you would like to be treated) and the importance of kindness. When I logged into Facebook one of my friends had become a fan and I followed the link to see what it was about. What a wonderful idea....

I recommend a discussion of The Golden Rule on Wikipedia, where this fine, fundamental principle is spelled both in the positive (do to others what you would like to be done to you) and negative (do not do to others what you would not like to be done to you) forms. As a Jewish person, though, I feel the irrepressible urge to set the record straight on this one.

The Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Shabbat, 31a, tells the story of a gentile who appeared before Shamai, head of one of the two dominating academies in the first century CE, asking, Convert me on the stipulation that you teach me the entire Torah while I am standing on one foot. Shamai drove him off with the building cubit in his hand. So the same gentile came before Hillel, head of the competing academy and the highest rabbinic authority of the time, asking to be converted with the one-legged stipulation. Hillel said to him, What is hateful to you, don’t do to your fellow man. That’s the entirety of the Torah; everything else is elaboration, so go, study. (translation based on Jacob Neusner’s Love of Neighbor in Classical Judaism)

Hillel picked Wikipedia’s "negative" definition of the Golden Rule, possibly because it’s clearer than the "positive" approach. It’s a little bit like the Henny Youngman joke about the man who tells the doctor It hurts when I do this, so the doctor says, Don’t do this. But the origin of Hillel’s very practical approach to ethics is in the Torah. It’s the inverse of the very popular Love thy neighbor as thyself. Which brings me to a kind of revelation regarding the mechanics of goodness, if you will.

The text of Leviticus 19:18 has much more to offer, before and after the neighbor thing. The New International Version says: Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself, I am the Lord.

This amazing verse is a short and extremely effective guide to accessing God: First you have to let go of your resentments, because if you still harbor bitterness then the "yourself" part is pretty lousy. You want to love your neighbor with that foul mind? Only after you let go of the grudges are you able to offer your neighbor love that makes sense, and through that love will you get a little closer to God. Or, as, the crafty old Hillel put it: Everything else is elaboration, so go, study.

Incidentally, Facebook’s Vicki Porter Pasterik, who lives in Erie, PA, recommends the following pages to her own visitors: Glenn Beck, Dairy Queen, Whole Foods Market, York Photo, and Creation Museum. If this is not an example of bipartisan living, I don’t know what is!

4. Kindness Stories in the News

Kindness campaign is an ongoing event

More than 300 parents, teachers and students kicked off a Campaign for Kindness at the free Tuesday showing of "The Mighty." The campaign is slated to continue drawing attention to how random acts of kindness can make one’s day, year, or life. It also is to be a tool to help "stop bullying now" at Muskogee’s public schools. (

Random acts of kindness along the road to D.C.
Tina Harbuck writes: What a trip it was to Washington, D.C., with the bus of fishermen. It was 18 hours up and 17 hours back, all for a three-hour United We Fish march on the Capitol. Early on in the trip, I started to feel a little ill. I remember looking over at Capt. George Eller, letting him know I wasn’t feeling so well, and asking for water. He immediately reached down in his bag and pulled out a bottle of water. Later, Capt. Jason Mikel offered to stand in line and get me a sandwich and drink. (

Makes you wonder, though, how shabbily Tina Harbuck is used to being treated, if an offer of water and a sandwich brings out such a gushing response from her. But maybe I’m missing the point entirely. Maybe Tina Harbuck is the kind of person who walks around all the time seeking out acts of kindness from people she hardly knows. Why am I so conditioned to embrace the guy-jumps-into-river-to-save-baby stories, but treat with cynicism the guy-gives-sandwich-to-woman-on-bus stories?

No comments:

Post a Comment