National Random Acts of Kindness Day

Posted on February 17, 2017 by Eleanor McKenzie
Act of kindness

I vaguely remember the beginnings of the Random Acts of Kindness movement in the UK. It was sometime in the 1980s and I believe I read about it in Time Out. In fact, Random Acts of Kindness (RAK) can be traced back to Sausalito, California, 1982, when a woman called Anne Herbert wrote, “Practice random acts of kindness and senseless acts of beauty” on a placemat. She intended it to be an antidote to the phrase: “random acts of violence and senseless acts of cruelty,” and her idea caught on in time.

Random acts of kindness in books and films

Herbert published a children’s book and one of true stories about kind acts, and UK humorist Danny Wallace has written two books on the topic, including one called “Join Me’ about a cult whose members perform random acts of kindness, particularly on ‘Good Fridays.’ He also published Random Acts of Kindness: 365 Ways to Make the World a Nicer Place and the kindness concept also underpins the plot of Evan Almighty where God tells Evan, “that the way to change the world is by doing one Act of Random Kindness (“ARK”) at a time.”

A national day of kindness

Now Random Acts of Kindness is a National Awareness Day in the UK. Perhaps we do need to be reminded to be kind, although I am confident that there are a great many people who practice it every day in some way and there are those who dedicate their lives to offering kindness through many varieties of volunteer and charity work.  Our everyday kindness costs nothing. A smile is a kindness and so is helping somebody struggling to carry shopping or trying to get a baby buggy on a bus. And yet, there is some ‘streak’ in this current age that seems to work against acting kindly, particularly if it involves helping strangers.

An atmosphere of mistrust

We have become wary of those we don’t know and it’s a fear that I don’t believe existed to the same extent prior to the 1990s. Consequently, those of us whose childhood happened during the 50s and 60s and who are perhaps more familiar with the story of the Good Samaritan, regardless of religious affiliation in later life, or lack of it, should have the ability to be more trusting that people are essentially good and so able to extend acts of kindness to strangers. At least, that is my perception of the situation. I’m not saying that the younger generations are cold and unfeeling, but the culture of ‘stranger danger’, whilst intended to protect young people has also produced a general atmosphere of mistrust. And mistrust is less likely to produce kind acts. In which case, having a National Awareness Day makes more sense. So, what might it entail?

Become a #Raktivist

The Random Acts of Kindness Foundation is a good place to discover all the possibilities and if you’re a teacher, there is a series of lesson plans available to help children develop important social and emotional skills as well as ideas for kindness projects and after school clubs. These resources are aimed at U.S. educators, but they can easily be adapted to British children’s needs. I started at the ‘Get Inspired’ page and one of the first things I saw was a quote from Mark Twain: “Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.” Twain is probably one of the most quoted writers after Shakespeare and this is one of his best. Just this page alone is teeming with kind ideas. There’s such a wealth of proposals for acts based on cooking, sports, crafting, writing, donating as well as ideas for helping senior citizens, at work, your community, your family, strangers and ones that are just for you, because we should also be kind to ourselves.

I’m not sure that anyone would want me to bake them a cake or knit them a jumper, but there are lots of other things I can do such as write a positive comment on a website or blog or be a welcoming neighbour.” And, there are good reasons for us to be kind and sign up to be a Raktivist, according to The Science of Kindness it gives us more energy, makes us happier and increases the years of our lives. Let’s all make an effort to do at least one random act of kindness on 17th February, it will make our world that much nicer, just like Danny Wallace says.

by Eleanor McKenzie

Eleanor McKenzie is a Northern Irish writer with a passion for art, literature, and red wine. She's worked at advertising agency JWT, edited a journal for a European social policy think tank and tried to teach teenagers the difference between "there" and "their". Being 50+ has not significantly changed Eleanor's life, although she finds it a handy excuse when she wants to avoid anything too energetic.