Experiments in Anonymous Kindness

Ever since I discovered Experiments in Anonymous Kindness, I always carry a Smile Card or two in my wallet. One aim of the experiment, according to its website, is to spread ripples of well-intentioned acts through the world, multiplying the effects of beneficence bestowed with no expectation (or even chance) of reward. And I suspect it does just that.

The real dynamic of the experiment, however, is internal. It is an issue of awareness. It’s funny how a little calling card can serve as a constant reminder that we are constantly confronted with opportunities to extend a little compassion to someone in need or bring a little joy to someone whose needs are not so obvious.

When I started playing (the Experiments in Anonymous Kindness website calls the processes “The Game,” and it is fun) I used to think, “Where am I ever going to find the opportunity to do a kind act for a stranger and pass along the Smile Card?” What I came to see was that the opportunities are all around — it’s just that we have become inured to those around us as we move through the world in pursuit of our private agendas. The anonymous people we encounter (or more precisely, fail to encounter) everyday become featureless in the haze of familiarity or complacency. But it takes very little — as little as a calling card — to bring things back into sharp focus.

And still, as vigilant as I aim to be, I find I am far more often the recipient of an unsolicited kind act than the giver. The numbers, were I to keep track, would be embarassingly lopsided. I’m too ashamed to run a tally; and in any event, keeping score is decidedly not the point. Despite all my good intentions, I’m a net taker of generosity.

I often obsess about things that are sad and frustrating: injustice, small-mindedness, and the darker side of politics. But it is also easy to be overwhelmed with gratitude for the kindness that abounds in the world. What a crazy planet!

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