Kind­ness, a gift that costs so lit­tle but de­liv­ers so much

Waikato Times - - Opinion - Denise Irvine

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.

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