Pick A Kindness Act Off The GenerosiTree!
Posted by Shephali Patel on Sep 24, 2008
...is what the sign said above the funny troll with four arms. A four-armed troll dressed in kindness ideas and inspirational quotes, wearing a crown. “I don’t get it”, you say? That’s ok. I think most other people didn’t get it either, but they were too busy to notice. Let me tell you what happened.
We showed up at Central Park last Saturday to pull off our regular program of selflessly giving away cookies and smiles. But this time, we were also going to bring a physical HelpOthers.org to the park-goers. A place where people could find instant inspiration on how to use the new Smile Cards we gave them. The idea was to create a posterboard tree with five branches. The four outer branches would be plastered with kindness ideas from each of the four suits in the soon-to-be unveiled Smile Deck of playing cards – each suit represents a category of kindness activities you can do for your family & friends, strangers, the world, or yourself. The central branch of the tree would be covered in inspirational quotes. We wrote the kindness ideas and inspiring quotes on Post-it notes so that people could pick the ones they liked off the tree and take them home along with their new Smile Card.
The only problem is that when the artistically-challenged set out to craft a tree, they end up making a troll. :) What can I say? We’re amateurs at this, but we’re really happy, enthusiastic amateurs! We set up near the Children’s Zoo in Central Park and got right to work. Chris of Berkeley Chalk the Walk fame brought some of the best homemade cookies I have ever tasted (I couldn’t resist) for us to give away. Philippe played the guitar for the entertainment and joy of all. Rahul and Nayeem were driving the enthusiasm with their fresh and positive energy, and Charlie came all the way from Princeton to bring Malamars and organic juice boxes. You can see pictures of all the fun and some excellent sidewalk chalk art here.
We had a great time, and I think everyone who walked by us did too. Our inadvertent new mascot, the GenerosityTroll, was really adding a new dimension to our standard RAK activity. Offering ideas in the form of kindness as physical tokens completely changed the dynamic of the space we created. We were still the same kids skipping over sidewalk chalk having a fun day at the park. But all of a sudden, this became serious business to the people that stopped by. They spent anywhere from 15 minutes to a full hour huddling together contemplating which of the ideas they would like to carry through, talking about other kind acts they could perform, and discussing what drives them to generous even when it’s tough. People stood in the rain reading all the ideas we had to offer them. People became so committed to seeing a kindness act through in that moment, they would hesitate from picking up ideas before they were completely sure they could pull it off.
And the best part was that we had a great mix of parents and children due to our location near the zoo. I was awestruck at how open and eager the children were to incorporating more kindness acts into their lives, and to see how supportive their parents were in encouraging them. Rahul shared this wonderful story during our post-activity circle of sharing:
“I saw a family of three passing through our intersection and approached them about the pay-it-forward random acts of kindness that our GenerosiTree was trying to inspire. The father of the two children seemed interested at once; it seemed, in the mindset of a good parent, that he wanted his young son and daughter to give the tree and the idea a shot. They were so excited! When the daughter picked a Post-it, she refused to show it to her dad, but when I asked to see what she had chosen, she gleefully presented me with the act, “Make lunch for a family member, and slip this card in it.” It occurred to me that she didn’t show her dad, because she intended to make that lunch for him. I didn’t know what made me so happy about this; I think it reminded me of what I was like as a child. I could imagine her making the lunch, excited about her dad’s reaction. He wouldn’t see it coming! It works out so well, I thought.”
So this is what happened. Everyone was so busy thinking about how they could bring a little more kindness into the world, they didn’t even notice or question why they were interacting with a misshapen posterboard troll. And as I left to go home, thinking of the many faces that generosity took that day, a single Post-it fell from the posterboard onto my arm. It said:
“We cannot do great things on this earth. We can only do little things with great love.”
-- Mother Teresa