Kindness, a gift that costs so little but delivers so much
Iwas in Rarotonga with a couple of friends last month and met a woman named Liz, who had a knack for dispensing acts of kindness. She lived near our rental house and she drove by when I was picking a bunch of tropical flowers growing wild on the roadside.
Liz stopped her car, introduced herself, and said she’d bring more flowers from her garden.
She turned up a little later with a bag of gloriously perfumed gardenias. She also gave me the head lei she was wearing, a woven wreath of fresh blooms.
I protested at the lei. It seemed too precious. Liz won. Just like she did the next day when brought culinary treats from her mother’s kitchen: a pottle of rakau – cooked taro and coconut cream, tasting like creamed spinach – and a rich, sweet pumpkin dessert. Liz’s mother makes these for a local supermarket.
Liz said the dessert was great on the lips, not so good for the hips.
I wanted to pay Liz for the food, and that’s when her smile briefly disappeared. She was firm: ‘‘This is a gift for your house.’’
It was a lesson in grace and generosity. We accepted the rakau and dessert in the spirit it was given, friendship was quickly restored. Liz came to say goodbye as we were heading to the airport, for the trip home, and she insisted on hefting a heavy suitcase down a steep flight of steps.
I’ve noticed that it is World Kindness Day on Tuesday and I think the international movement that promotes this would love Liz, with her flowers, her food and her friendliness. I’m pretty sure they’d also like another graceful kindness practitioner, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who at her debut speech at the United Nations General Assembly in September called for a new world order, urging governments to put kindness ahead of isolationism, protectionism and racism.
The Kindness movement highlights and encourages the common thread of compassion that unites people everywhere.
It suggests that we imagine what the world would be like if we got into a regular habit of doing little acts of kindness for each other.
It says that in a short time, kindness could become the norm. It would become a reflex, rather than an act.
Liz has the reflex, she makes kindness look effortless. It was like being wrapped for a moment in a magic cloak, and I felt the warm glow of it for a long time afterwards.
I’ve had a similar experience this week, where a former Waikato Times colleague has done me the most enormous kindness, lending her design skills for a project I’m working on for my grandkids for Christmas. I’m feeling the glow again, deeply touched by the time and care she has taken with it.
Such generosity runs counter to an increasing view that the world is nowadays woefully lacking in grace and manners, and that many people wouldn’t know an act of kindness if they tripped over it. There is no research evidence for this, yet it’s a grumpy, discordant chorus that attracts more than its share of voices.
There is plenty of research, though, on the positive benefits of kindness on mental health and well-being, for both giver and receiver.
Kindness is not age-related, racerelated, or gender-related. It’s more a way of being, a way of living, and it’s not difficult. Apparently you can get better at it with practice. It’s mostly about your glass being half-full rather than halfempty, and taking opportunities to give people a hand with stuff.
Kindness is everywhere, really. It can be something small: like the other Sunday at Hamilton Farmers’ market when a stall-holder tucked a couple of extra avocados into my bag. ‘‘Plenty more where they came from,’’ he said.
Or the mornings when I’m driving out of my street onto a clogged suburban feeder road, and someone always pauses to let me in. It may be a young guy in a souped-up car, a woman on the school run in a behemoth 4WD, or a taxi driver from a far-flung point of the globe. I wave my thanks. Then I let in the car at next intersection.
At the supermarket the other day, I saw a touching demonstration of the ‘‘reflex’’ that the World Kindness movement mentions. A frail, older couple was helping each other at every turn as they slowly navigated their trolley around the aisles, collected a big pile of provisions. Their marital kindness was innate, well practised.
They were ahead of me at the checkout. When they finished, the young man on the till rang the bell, summoned another staff member to help them with the heavy lifting. Last seen, the couple and their groceries were in thoughtful hands, on the way to their car.
Nice work, checkout man.
A gift of flowers from a holiday neighbour can start a cascade of kindness.