*Editor’s Note: The “Views from NAU” blog series highlights the thoughts of different people affiliated with NAU, including faculty members sharing opinions or research in their areas of expertise. The views expressed reflect the authors’ own personal perspectives.
By Janine Schipper
Professor of sociology
The first time I was a knowing recipient of a random act of kindness was on Sept. 13, 2001, two days after the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States. On the morning of Sept. 11, I had entered the sociology class that I was teaching, in a fog. I walked to the front of the classroom and turned on the news. We were all in shock, and all that mattered to me that morning was that I connect with the students and begin to process together the horrors unfolding before our eyes.
When I entered the same classroom two days later, I was surprised to see a gigantic bouquet of flowers draped upon the lectern. The card had my name on it and a message, “We’re in this together.” I asked the class who had shared this beautiful gift with me, but no one came forward. I felt warm and uplifted. Even though something so atrocious had just happened, someone out there was reminding me that there was also kindness and beauty in the world. The anonymity of the gift made an especially strong impact on me. Because I didn’t know who shared the flowers, I felt gratitude toward all the students.
Since then, I have been the recipient of many random acts of kindness. Strangers have paid my toll on the highway, left me books, stopped to help me fix a flat tire, scraped ice off my windshield before work and held my hand while I waited for an ambulance in the aftermath of a car accident. As with the flowers after 9/11, I found myself appreciating everyone, since these little acts of anonymous kindness could have come from anyone.
If you have ever been on the receiving end of a random act of kindness, you have probably experienced a sense of surprise, even elation. You may feel a sense of well-being and connection, knowing that you are not alone, that someone in the world cares. Committing a random act of kindness is equally, if not more, fulfilling. Researchers have found that kindness increases our happiness and sense of well-being while reducing stress.1 But most of all, acts of kindness bring us together and connect us to our shared humanity.
As I pay it forward with committing random acts of kindness, I know that even the smallest act can have a powerful impact. Last semester I was overwhelmed with family and work responsibilities. My weekdays were crammed full and it felt like I had no room to relax and enjoy this “one wild and precious life” as Mary Oliver once wrote. I needed to do something uplifting, something that would warm my heart. I remembered all the many acts of kindness that have impacted my life, so I began a project, planting seeds of kindness wherever I go. I won’t tell you what these seeds look like; perhaps one day, you’ll come upon one. And when you do, remember, it could have come from anyone.
Ideas for celebrating National Random Acts of Kindness Day:
1 Sreenivasan, Shoba and Weinberger, Shoba. 2017, November 16. “Why Random Acts of Kindness Matter to Your Well-being.” Psychology Today.