A few years ago, I worked in an inpatient rehab facility for women with substance abuse addiction where I taught groups, and I used to talk to the women about what I called the ripple. The ripple, I explained, is the idea that everything we do and the consequences of our actions are not merely limited to ourselves but causes a ripple effect affecting everyone we directly and indirectly come into contact with; therefore, the impact of our decisions and how we choose to treat ourselves and others is magnified beyond the scope of our reflection. The ripple connects the lonely individual to the larger world and provides accountability to the choices one does make. The ripple gives power to everyday choice, and with that power, the ripple has the ability to transform the minute into something beautiful and grand.
It was the ripple that inspired a seven day mission for me to spread kindness. My goal was simple: to sincerely compliment three individuals for seven days in order to positively influence the ripple. And so I did for seven days; I complimented people I knew and people I didn’t know through text, on Instagram, and in person. I expected nothing in return because this mission wasn’t for my validation; I honestly didn’t even know I was going to write about this experience until a few days after I had already started my little mission. The only thing I asked in return of those I complimented was that they spread kindness to another. If you’ve seen the movie Pay It Forward with Kevin Spacey and Helen Hunt, it’s the same concept.
But why did I do this? What was my purpose? What did I hope to gain from my seven day mission of kindness? There are two reasons I decided to do this. Firstly, I have been feeling entrenched in my own self and my own issues; I knew that I had to do something to shift my mindset so I wouldn’t get stuck ruminating or swimming in self-pity or worse, self-loathing. After years of preaching it to clients, I knew that the best way to stop thinking about myself was to focus on others and the gratitude they give me. There have been countless studies that show the link between random acts of kindness and gratitude to overall happiness, and that’s exactly what I wanted. Secondly, I was inspired to in an unlikely place. I go to spin class at the Madison Improvement Center on the weekends, and one thing my favorite instructor, Emma, says almost every class is that you have the power to influence the energy around you if you so choose or you can choose to be influenced. When I sought out to do this mission, I truly wanted to positively influence the energy around me. There a million and one bad things that happen in the world every day, and the negativity permeates in the souls of everyone. It is easily to drown in darkness and cynicism, but I wanted my little mission to be the antithesis of that. I wanted to influence the energy so that it could ripple out love and light beyond me. Call me naïve; call me a hippie but I believe that is possible.
What I wasn’t expecting from this little love ride of mine was for me to get anything back. Spreading kindness to others resonated and struck a chord with me reverberating deep within, and in this process, I noticed somethings and learned some profound lessons:
- Being sincere in your kindness requires a lot of personal vulnerability. When I was complimenting others, I really thought about and reflected on what I wanted to say them and how I admired their strengths. This required me to really be honest about what I saw in them, and you don’t know how that’s going to be received. Whenever you are being that honest, you are allowing a part of your inner self to be, and that can be terrifying. To be totally transparent, this was a large part of why I noted to those I complimented that I didn’t want a “thank you” or any form of validation because it means that they are acknowledging that they see me too.
- Giving people love requires you to be able AND willing to also receive it. This was especially hard for me. I didn’t want to be acknowledged or thanked; it made me uncomfortable. I recognize that this is something to work on in myself. It was easier to be acknowledged by the strangers I complimented but to get love from people who actually knew me, it was almost too much for my little heart to take. I had to take a pause on my second or third “thank you” and understand the root of why I was reacting this way. I had to reinforce in my brain that it was okay to be seen, to be loved, and that part of giving love is the desire to accept it as well.
- The ripple is real. When I started this mission, I didn’t want any feedback from those I was complimenting. However, what I did learn from reactions is that one small act of kindness from one person to another is powerful and beautiful. The act of giving kindness not only a sense of deep appreciation in myself for others but given induced it in those I shared it with which created an energy of gratitude which they carried with them into the world. What we say, what we do, how we treat people, it all matters because we are the ripple.