I try to set a good example with my boys by presenting them with opportunities for learning and moments for reflection. I want to show them what it means to be a good person and how to care for others by giving of your time and whatever extras you might have. Be that food, clothes, money, whatever. I want them to know that every little bit counts. I truly believe in the power of community and helping those in need. I also want my boys to grow up grateful for the opportunities and privileges they have.
On weekends when they’re with me, we plan a portion of our time to go out and make an ARK (Act of Random Kindness). This past weekend when I got them after school we sat around the kitchen island and wrote 60+ “nice notes”. Each note was inscribed with a heart felt compliment to another person. Things like, “you’re a gift to the world”, “The world loves you”, and “Stay awesome.”
When it was all said and done we stuffed our pockets with all the “nice notes”, harnessed up Harvey our scruffy pup, and headed out on the town. We walked from downtown to the Short North passing out our letters of encouragement to anyone willing to accept them. Which happened to be almost everyone. The boys were so poised and full of confidence. As a father, I was beaming with pride just to witness their actions. Each person that took a note quickly read it and graciously thanked the boys for it. On several occasions I watched people light up and walk away with more life in their step. I want my boys to know that with even simple acts of kindness you can change the course of someone’s day, that by being a force for good in this world you can spread the light into the hearts of everyone.
The boys handed notes to women wearing long fur coats and high heels, they handed them to popped collar college boys, to officers, to people holding signs asking for help, to people at tables inside restaurants. One of the street performers that my son handed a note to said that he would keep his letter forever. I watched a guy try to give my son a dollar for the note and my son told him that the money wasn’t necessary. They handed them to anyone willing to accept them without being selective. One thing I noticed about their interactions with the people on the street was that they didn’t choose any one style of person. They treated everyone equally with dutiful kindness and respect. I did my best to not over coach them and to keep a low profile. I wanted this to be their endeavor. And it was, fully and whole heartedly. They went out of their way to make sure that the people in their community felt welcome and appreciated. Which I believe to be a prevailing trend in the years ahead. On our way back we passed a handful of the people that were given notes, and their attitude was still noticeably uplifted. They remembered the boys and even reiterated their gratitude. Those two dudes are already at the forefront, setting an example of true leadership, backed by the service required to be seen as trustworthy and honest young men. I know they will take these moments with them for the rest of their lives, and I’m glad it’s happening right here in Columbus, Ohio.
When we got back to my apartment, we hovered over a hot bowl of steamed vegetables and some tortilla chips and shared our thoughts about the experience. Both boys echoed the sentiment that it made them feel “really good” to spread kindness. We talked about how giving is really the true gift in all of it. We also talked about how when people reject their kindness, it has nothing to do with the person doing the giving, the other person just isn’t ready or willing to receive and that they are missing out on the gift of gratitude. We spoke about the cyclical nature of giving and receiving. When you give, it is a gift of joy for yourself and when you receive it is a moment for gratitude for the other. Both of which create love in your heart. The last thing we talked about before drifting off to sleep that night was how we wished there were more things like it happening in the world.
We’ll be sure to keep you all posted on our next adventure out. Perhaps you’ll join in on the fun!
Until then, may your Thanksgiving festivities be filled with joy and gratitude.
By Matthew Barnes, Contributor