Who on here hasn’t yet seen the Netflix series ‘Afterlife’? This black comedy tells the story of a man struggling to come to terms with his wife’s death. In order to cope with his grief, he decides to take on a ‘hard’ new persona in an effort to push away those trying to help. His rationale is that by adopting this new persona, he is punishing the world for the grief that has stricken him.
The series is profound and funny at the same time, and at its core (and you especially realize this if you have watched both seasons) it has a simple message: if you suffer or otherwise lost the ability to care, hang on and keep going. Help is around the corner, and little acts of kindness from people who don’t owe you anything, can give you a complete different outlook on life.
Have you ever taken the time to reflect on the little acts of kindness that have helped you change your perspective when you most needed a new viewpoint on life? These little acts might not have meant much by themselves, but when added up, maybe they helped to shift the way you look at other people and their intentions.
On more than one occasion, I have been pleasantly surprised at people about to leave a car park, specifically waiting for another driver to walk back to their car, then approaching them and offering to give them their parking ticket to use which is still valid for another few hours. Why are they doing that? What are they gaining from this? Perhaps they just want to create a mentality where people start doing the same thing for each other, which will eventually benefit them. But there is no guarantee they will directly benefit from this. They are taking a risk which might not pay off, as others might not be as willing to engage in the same behaviour. Perhaps then, they only do this because it feels good.
When I first moved from Greece to Belgium, my mother decided that the best way for me to learn the new language, was to be registered in a Flemish speaking school, even though we had the option for me to continue my education in Greek. I didn’t speak a single word of this new language and remember being completely overwhelmed in my first day at this new school.
But the fear soon evaporated when I saw so many other pupils, not only from my class but from other classes as well, showing genuine concern to help me learn the language. My teacher bought a Greek phrases book and was using it from time to time, especially in the beginning, to help me get ‘unstuck’. He certainly didn’t have much personal benefit in learning Greek phrases (his favourite holiday destination was Spain). But he did, and it helped me to understand and adjust quicker.
When my wife and I started looking around for places to live after deciding to relocate to Wales, we saw a lot of lovely places where we could have easily ended up living. We didn’t have jobs yet or any particular reason to be at a specific location, nor any preference about where we wanted to be. When we came to look around in the town we currently live in, I was first overcome with a sense of claustrophobia. The town centre was quite densely built, and the streets narrow. In some of these areas, you need to first look ahead and make way for upcoming traffic, as there is not enough space for two cars to pass at the same time. This was certainly very different than what I was used to in Slough, and something that gave me a feeling of unease and kept telling me I should look elsewhere.
Then, out of nowhere, an elderly gentleman came out of a shop and asked us where we are from. We explained we were looking around for a new place to live. He responded with: Come and live here; it”s a wonderful place, and people are friendly”. It was clear that he was genuine, and that he was practicing the very welcoming attitude he spoke about. How could we reject such a generous offer? So here we are, still living in Llantwit Major, and we haven’t regretted it for a moment.
I frequently engage in random acts of kindness myself, and quite frankly I’m not too sure why. It just feels right. I have bought coffee for refugees in a community cafe. This was part of a scheme where you could put some money towards ‘coffee for refugees’, but there was no refugee to be seen whenever I was there. Nothing to make me feel guilty or sorry for a person in distress. Neither do I feel I have a debt towards any social groups of society; I have been working for a charity for most of my working life and I always felt this was more than enough to ‘pay my dues’. But it just felt right at that particular moment.
I used to attend a Shin Buddhist temple when I lived in Antwerp. We met weekly for meditation practice and recitations. I was very proud of a rare book I owned at the time, explaining the origins and spread of Buddhism across the continents. As soon as I finished reading the book, I felt that I should be donating it to the temple’s library. The librarian couldn’t believe it. ‘Are you sure?’ he asked. I was. Maybe I thought I can always go back and read the book there anyway (does anyone really do something like this?) I didn’t, and after a few more sessions I relocated and didn’t visit the temple any more, but the book stayed there. I sometimes miss its presence, gazing melancholically at the empty spot in my library. But I never regretted giving it away. It felt right at the time.
I believe that the most powerful element of experiencing a random act of kindness, is the fact that it makes us understand that it is futile to try to outguess people’s motives. I fully accept that some of my motivations to do good are possibly coloured by an unconscious desire to be socially accepted, or some other obscure mental process. But it doesn’t really matter. What matters is that they can have a transformative effect on someone’s life. At my time working for Victim Support, we used to say that the most powerful element of being a volunteer helping victims of crime, was the fact that the selfless act of supporting someone who had just undergone a trauma as a result of someone else’s hostile behaviour, was the only thing that could transform the victim’s negative worldview. It literally gave back to the individual what was so brutally taken away. It usually didn’t matter who it was that took or gave. The very act of doing so was central to change of perspective.
What acts of kindness have you experienced in your life? How did they help you transform your views about the world we live in? Did they make you stop questioning people’s motives?
Kostas The Coach is a Psychologist, Life and Small Business Coach and NLP Practitioner based in Llantwit Major, Wales. I help people of various backgrounds find the ideal intersection between profit, joy and values in their lives, and I assist businesses to grow sustainably while remaining aligned to their why.
If any of the topics discussed here has intrigued you, I would love to hear your thoughts. You can email me on Kostasthecoach@gmail.com or contact me via telephone or SMS on 07725653870.