How I Use Smile Cards
--Mark Jacobs
2 minute read
Dec 29, 2011


Folks often use Smile Cards to drop gifts stealthily and anonymously on friends, or on strangers as surprising, random-feeling acts of generosity.  We like to refer to these gifts as "tagging" someone. To be honest, while these lovely shenanigans are great fun, they are not my favorite aspect of Experiments in Anonymous Kindness. 

I give-out Smile Cards all the time, but never to anyone I know and almost never in the nature of surprising the person behind me by paying for their toll, coffee, etc.  Those are perfectly okay ways to use the cards; but I don't believe they represent the highest form of the art. 

The ultimate value of a Smile Card in the pocket is, to my mind, as a tool of awareness.  When we are looking to give away a smile card -- not as a "secret Santa" (to use a seasonal reference), but as a way of addressing the real needs of real people whose paths cross ours each day -- we cannot help but become re-sensitized to the mundane.  Our antennae go up a little higher; and we suddenly see how much need there is -- how many opportunities there are to serve.  The needs don't have to be profound and the service does not have to be earthshaking.  Sometimes a person just needs help hoisting a heavy box; or a jump-start for a dead battery; or a small joke to improve a slow afternoon.  Small is good.  If we are doing "small", it means we are cultivating an awareness of the needs of others to a pretty subtle level; and that we are processing our interconnectedness with the lives around us in a responsive, interactive way.  It is the complete opposite to walking through the same-old-streets in the same-old-way, inured to the commonplace.  It's about making the commonplace the place where magic can happen.
One of the fun things about Smile Cards is that they are a little stunning, a bit transgressive, and unusually happy-making to receive.  This is because they are not only tools of awareness for the giver, but they also cause the recipient to fully appreciate the expression of kindness they've serendipitously been  thrown.  It is a chance to pause and reflect on what it means for one person to do something generous for another: how much pleasure can be generated by such little effort when thoughtfulness is applied to the situations of daily life.  I think these moments of epiphany are significant and transformative.  They are what make kind acts not one-offs, but vectors of beneficence in a never-ending wave of kindness paid-forward.


Posted by Mark Jacobs on Dec 29, 2011

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