We watched an elderly gentleman clean the floor of a busy mall with his broom.
He had no expression on his face, he just completed his job, his task at hand. Swarms of people passed him as though he was a ghost, and left their evidence behind on tables and around the legs of chairs. He would fill the places they just emptied, and would remove their leftovers with indiscretion. My wife and I watched him one afternoon, bored with mall walking.
We had the crazy idea of doing something for this man. And we did. The look on his face was as indiscreet as his actions, for his eyes remained empty and void, programmed by his humble job to not accept any adulation.
But I still walked away from feeling better, because I gave.
Giving is a very biblical concept, though now watered down with such an inept phrase as “random acts of kindness.” The phrase, catchy as it sounds, just seems to promote kindness as a movement, the better side of a generally greedy and selfish culture. But the very phrase itself reeks of greediness. The movement belittles kindness to just one action at random intervals, generally promoted because the world has an enormous supply of people who can’t seem to find regular times to be kind.
I just happen to think that kindness is more than an act, closer to emotion than action, that seeps from your character in almost uncontrollable ways. And I believe kindness is much more than a movement. The world may lack kindness, but the last thing to encourage kindness would be some advertising and marketing ploy. We have come to believe that twenty seconds of a selfless message, sandwiched between two advertising spots encouraging you to buy something for yourself, is enough to start some feel-good movement. What these marketing ploys and slogans seem to be unable to grasp is the real, inherent goodness that genuine kindness makes you feel.
A survey from the University of British Columbia and the Harvard Business School proved such when they composed a study to find out if giving can actually make you happier. They found that to be true. Subjects were asked to spend money on someone else, even as little as $5, and the results were surprisingly surprising. The test subjects felt happiness from true, purposeful kindness. And this information is juxtaposed against rising salaries in recent years, which, according to other studies, has given people more wealth in their pockets, but left an emptiness in their souls. Giving away your money — spending it on others — gives you the feeling that you can help others with what you have. Which may even further indicate that we were born to serve, to help, to be kind, to give.
The survey, though, does not appear to lend itself to random giving. There is something more purposeful here. True sacrificial giving requires much more thought than filling some kindness quota. When you give through sacrifice, you give of something you otherwise would think you could never do without.
The study isn’t meant to inspire a movement, or even embolden the current one. But I think it validates principles found in Christianity, that giving, which is not a movement, and not a random act, is something that comes from deeper places. And leads to much, much, deeper emotions.