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Friday, May 04, 2007

Living Selfishly, part 2

(I am writing this after considerable prodding from several friends who are also readers. Those who hate looking at this blog, please don’t!)

Here’s a little article that someone sent me by email. It’s called ‘Guerrilla goodness’.

A woman in a red car pulls up at a tollbooth at California’s San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. ‘I’m paying for myself and the six cars behind me,’ she says with a smile.
One after another the next six drivers arrive at the booth, money in hand. ‘Some lady up ahead already paid your fare,’ says the collector. ‘Have a nice day.’
The woman, it turned out, had read a note taped to a friend’s refrigerator; ‘Practise random kindness and senseless acts of beauty’. The words leaped out at her, and she wrote them down.
Judy Foreman spotted the same phrase on a warehouse wall 120 km from her home in San Francisco. When she couldn’t get it out of her mind, she finally drove all the way back to copy it exactly. ‘I thought it was incredibly beautiful,’ she said, explaining why she writes it at the bottom of all her letters. ‘It’s like a message from heaven.’
Her husband, Frank, a teacher, enjoyed the saying so much that he posted it on a wall for his seventh-standard students.
Anne Herbert, a writer, jotted down a phrase in a restaurant which said, ‘If you think there should be more of something, do it randomly. Kindness can build on itself as much as violence can.’
Senseless acts of beauty spread. A man plants flowers along a roadway. A concerned citizen roams the streets collecting litter. A student scrubs graffiti from a park bench. It’s a positive anarchy, a gentle disorder, a sweet disturbance.
They say you can’t smile without cheering yourself up. Likewise, you can’t commit a random act of kindness or beauty without feeling as if your troubles have been lightened – because the world has become a slightly better place.
If you were one of those commuters whose bridge toll was paid, who knows what you might have been inspired to do for someone else? Like all revolutions, guerrilla goodness begins slowly, with a single act. Let it be yours.

Or again, consider the little story quoted in Chicken Soup for the soul (vol. 1), about the lone man doing something quietly on the beach, stooping again and again to pick something out of the sand and throw it out into the sea. Another man walked up and asked ‘What are you doing?’ He replied, ‘I’m throwing these starfish stranded in the sand back to where they belong. The tide has gone out, and if I don’t throw them back quickly they will die.’ ‘Well,’ the other replied after some thinking, ‘I guess it’s a good thing you are doing, but is it worth it? There must be thousands of starfish stranded on the beach; you can’t possibly get them all. And there must be millions more stranded all along the coast of this continent! Does saving a few make a difference?’ – the other smiled, stooped again, straightened to flick another starfish into the sea, and said, ‘Made a difference to that one!’

Now I believe that the active characters in the two stories knew who they were, and what exactly they wanted out of life, and they were living selfishly, in the sense of doing just what they loved to do, no matter what. And call me a sentimental fool, or a ‘narcissistic know-it-all who needs to get a life’ as some love to call me again and again, I believe that such people must be my ideals if I am to live a good life, whether or not I can manage to make a difference to a single other living thing. If I can make someone even a teeny-weeny bit happy, that’s a huge bonus, though! (in this connection, it might not be out of place to ask you to check out the website www.actsofkindness.org)

Just one thing for those of my detractors who have persisted up to this point: I am not writing this blog in expectation of any kind of fee from my readers. There are far more important things than fees in this world, though you might never find out. And remember, every time you post some of your hysterical and uncouth nonsense, you give us a lot of cause for laughter, for free! Now that's what I call genuine unselfishness: ugly and foolish, perhaps, but genuine nonetheless.