Danny Wallace is a self-confessed cult leader. Sort of. He
calls his cult, the ‘Karma Army’, a “friendly cult” and it has a super simple
message: undertake a random act of kindness for a stranger when you can. He now
has a mass following, with annual celebrations of ‘Karmageddon’ where hundreds of
followers descend on London town to perform good exploits.
The virtues of kindness have long been extolled in
fairy-tales, religious parables, literature and educational institutions. A
question that came to mind is, other than leaving one feeling all warm and
fuzzy inside, what are some of the long-term effects of such kindness?
A research study was conducted in 2005 at Stanford University
where psychologist, Sonja Lyubomirsky, gave students the task of carrying out
good deeds over a five week period. Results showed that the students reported
higher levels of happiness than students in the control group (who weren’t given
the task of performing random acts of kindness). Other studies have established that altruistic
people tend to be happy, but Lyubomirsky’s was the first to find that good deeds are actually the direct cause of
an increase in well-being.
Being kind can help one feel in control, and while many
people act kindly for purely altruistic reasons, the benefits to oneself cannot
be denied. There is also a positive social response to kindness, it feels good
to be appreciated for your good will. But if we only focus of being kind to
strangers, there is less chance of you seeing the value. For this reason it is
recommended that acts of kindness are not limited to being random nor that should
the recipient be a stranger only. Kindness is a great way to build on
interpersonal relationships. So visit that sister who’s feeling sick. Send that
email or sms to your dad who’s maybe missing you!
There are countless stories through history and in our
present day of people who have acted for the betterment of humankind. The story
of Paul Rusesabagina was made into a book (‘An Ordinary Man’) and a movie (‘Hotel
Rwanda’). It relates his experience of sheltering over twelve hundred Tutsis
and moderate Hutus in the hotel where he was general manager, during the
Rwandan Genocide, knowing full well that he could be killed were he found out. He
chose to stay at the hotel despite having the opportunity to flee with his wife
and children as he was concerned that with him gone there would be no one to
protect the refugees in the hotel.
Irena Sendler was
a Holocaust resister. During WWII she worked in the Warsaw Ghetto as a plumbing
specialist. Irena smuggled 2,500 Jewish children out; infants in the bottom of
the tool box she carried and older children in a burlap sack she carried in the
back of her truck. She was eventually caught, tortured and sentenced to death
(she escaped by bribing the soldiers on the way to her execution). She
continued her work and later in life, like Paul, received numerous awards and
acknowledgements for her humanitarian work.
A recent story is of Mike Trowler who gave an injured and
ill fox a home after it was decided that he could never survive in the wild
And of course, closer to home, there are numerous sporting
events that take place where people (laypeople, corporations and celebrities
alike) participate to raise funds for a wide range of charities, for example, the
Johannesburg 94.7 and Momentum Cycle Challenge where charities/groups such as
CHOC, NSPCA, etc benefit.
Some of the random acts of kindness detailed in Wallace’s
- Give a slice of your pizza to the delivery man
Phone someone at a call centre and tell them
they’re doing a good job
Do a chore at work that someone else usually has
to do (what about washing those coffee
mugs in the kitchenette sink-Hazel)
Find old scarves and gloves you don’t need any
more and, on a cold day, offer them to strangers in the street
- Write to an old teacher, and say thanks
Pay for the order of a person behind you in a
drive-thru (expect some suspicion from
Some acts of kindness can brighten the day of a single
person, or can save a life while others can change the nature of the world we
live in. It can change YOU for the better.