When thinking about the notion of random acts of kindness, I always remember the movie, Evan Almighty, with Steve Carell. Remember, the pseudo-sequel to Bruce Almighty? You gotta love a film where Morgan Freeman plays God, am I right?
Anyways, the theme of the movie is the recurring question of how to change the world. I won’t go into the synopsis, but it loosely follows the story of the Biblical tale, Noah’s Ark. In the end, God (Freeman) explains that we change the world by means of the ark. A-R-K. Acts of Random Kindness. Never mind the religiosity of the movie, its message always stuck with me. Although, I hardly understood what it truly meant until I came to teach in Thailand.
Let me tell you the story of the day my world was changed by a random act of kindness.
I won’t sugarcoat it for you: your first week in your placement is inherently difficult. It definitely was for me. I had left the comfort of my Greenheart Travel family and TESOL course city (Chiang Mai), and embarked to a completely new place. It felt so foreign. I was alone. It was the most alone I had ever felt.
Loneliness can be one of the worst feelings a human can have. I felt like my loneliness exaggerated every other negative emotion. If I had a bad day, it was escalated because I had to deal with it alone. If I was sad or homesick, same thing. My life turned into a full time pity party. Except the only person at the party was me. But, my perspective changed when a stranger showed me kindness.
I woke up on the first Saturday in my placement city with the realization that I had nothing to do with my weekend. I had no friends to hang out with and there isn’t much to do in my town. It would have been easy to bunker down in my apartment and watch Netflix all day, but I decided instead to try and get out and about.
It was pouring down rain. I had to drive up and down the busy main road on my motorbike a few times to find anything open for food. All I could find was a small soup restaurant with a grumpy old man working. He spoke zero English and seemed thoroughly annoyed that I was there, so I tried to eat quickly.
I finished, took a swig from my water bottle, threw it into my purse, and left in a hurry. My next stop was a nearby hair salon. Maybe pampering myself will make me feel better, I thought.
After receiving a quick trim, I reached into my purse to pay the hair stylist. My wallet was quite wet, but I assumed it was because of the rain. It wasn’t until I looked down and saw a puddle accumulating under my bag that I realized my water bottle had leaked. In fact, it had emptied completely during my haircut and all of my belongings were submerged, turning my purse into a leather canteen. I scurried outside, pulling things out one by one and checking them. My phone wasn’t working. A deep pit in my heart made its way to my throat.
Of course, breaking a phone really isn’t the end of the world (even when you’re abroad), but this was a graduation gift I’d gotten from my parents not six months ago. I was frantic and devastated. I looked up and saw a nearby 7-Eleven. Have you ever heard of the good old phone-in-rice trick? I decided to test my luck, and dashed in to buy rice.
I didn’t hesitate to plunge my phone into the bag of dry grain directly after purchasing it. By this time, I was thoroughly flustered and soaking. My sandals squawked under my wet feet with every step as I made my way back to the salon and mounted my parked motorbike.
The moment my leg swung over the seat and my foot touched the ground, my cheap, wet sandal slipped out from beneath my toes and I fell sideways, bringing the bike down with me. Luckily, I managed to avoid physical injury. But, my pride was obliterated when the salon ladies rushed out to help me up. They had seen the whole thing. Mortified, wet, and frustrated, I went home.
These events probably don’t seem unusually unfortunate, but again, my loneliness exacerbated everything. I spent a good hour crying and moping on the tile floor of my apartment, feeling sorry for myself. It was the only time in Thailand where I felt like I wanted to go home.
Hunger was the only thing that got me out of my apartment later that day. I had started to dread leaving, for fear of whatever misfortune awaited me outside. At least the rain had stopped. I wanted to avoid the grumpy soup man, so I was relieved to see another restaurant open down the road. Of course, the menu was in Thai, but the server helped me choose a dish and asked if I wanted anything to drink. Still resentful of the water bottle that had ruined my day, I declined. Plus, I didn’t want to have to pay for it as you almost always have to do in Thailand.
Okay, what happened next is going to sound crazy. The server brought me a glass of water and smiled.
“Wait, Tav… That’s not crazy at all,” you must be thinking.
I know, but this absolutely mundane action meant the world to me. In fact, it almost brought tears to my eyes. She gave me free water. She gave me something to drink even though I said no. She gave it to me for free when I declined purchasing it. And the way she smiled. It wasn’t sympathy—I think that would have made me feel patronized. It was genuine and caring, like a friend. This small act gave me a whole new perspective on my situation.
I went back to my apartment that night feeling like someone was looking out for me. I no longer felt so alone and defeated. From that day forward, things got better; and not for any extraordinary reason other than I had changed my attitude towards things.
This server probably had no idea the impact she had on me, which is quite often the case when we are on the giving end of acts of kindness. Maybe we don’t even know when we are committing them. When we do, of course it makes us feel good. We get that satisfaction from imagining how the other person feels; most of us have been on the receiving end as well.
What makes this circumstance different, though, is how badly I needed it. I want to emphasize that kindness is especially important to people who need it, and these people may not always be conspicuous. Remember how I told you that loneliness had generated a lot of negativity in my life? I didn’t make it obvious to anyone around me that I was lost in an incredibly dark place. And it only took a little bit of light from someone else to help me find my way.
So, how do we change this seemingly dark world? Greenheart Travel is a good place to start; the world needs more global citizens to be the leaders of peace. But even a small act of kindness can make a difference. Perhaps the world is only dark because we perceive it that way, and all it needs is a bit of light from all of us. Through acts of random kindness, we give that light to those in need, those whose world is the darkest. So, be kind, until the earth is bright.
By the way, the rice trick worked.
About the author:
Tavish Petty recently graduated from Portland State (her home town) with a pre-education social science degree. She’s passionate about traveling and education, and this experience enables her to put the two together. Her favorite part about traveling is trying new food and seeing beautiful places!