Friday, June 6, 2008

Small Random Acts of Kindness

My guest blogger today is Dr. Ron Shook, Associate Professor of English at Utah State University. He's also my brother. When I told him I was yourLDSneighborhood's blogger on service, he began telling me his theory of the Good Samaritan. "Don't tell me," I interrupted. "Blog it." So he did.

This is his blog:

One evening I’m standing in the regular line at the grocery story with one item. I think I had a loaf of bread. It was a Saturday, which meant that all the families in the area were loading up for the weekend; carts piled high with foodstuffs of all sorts were lined up at all the counters. I was second in line behind a woman who had bought enough food to feed a small country.

She saw me, saw the loaf of bread in my fist, and said, “Why don’t you go in front of me.” Which I did. With alacrity. It was no big deal; it was no big sacrifice on her part, and additional 30 seconds perhaps. But that’s not the point, is it? The point is that the woman saw a chance to do a good thing and did it. She committed what a friend of mine calls “Random acts of kindness.”

One of the most underappreciated concepts from the parable of the Good Samaritan is the randomness of the event. The Samaritan didn’t go out that morning looking for someone to rescue. It just turned out that he was in the right (or wrong) place at the right (or wrong) time. He responded to the situation by helping out. It may also be that he missed an appointment and lost all his money because of this, but the action is no less valid if he had nothing to do that day and was merely strolling down to look at the new hospital anyway. We always seem to equate service with sacrifice, as if we believe that if it don’t hurt, it ain’t valid. This simply isn’t so. The service the woman did to me in the grocery store was no less wonderful because it was easy.

Since we are in a constant flux of events in our lives, the nature of human interaction is such that we very often have chances to perform small acts of random kindness. We don’t get that many opportunities to transport someone to the hospital while staunching arterial bleeding with finger pressure, but we do have chances to let the guy with the one item go in front of us. We have chances to let another person get the parking place, to pause a moment to hold a door for a man carrying packages, to let someone into the stream of traffic in front of us.

We can help a stranger change a tire or find an address. We can shovel some of our neighbor’s snow. If we make cookies, we can spread them around. The essence of service is not in the size of the act that is performed, but in the impulse that generates the act.

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