It seems such a small thing. A uniformed schoolboy walking alongside a busy road noticed an old woman ahead of him, heavy shopping bags in hand, slowly making her way home. He approached her and offered to carry them back to her house. She said yes.
Just small thing which happened on an ordinary road that day – one of many thousands of human interactions in that ordinary town. A few minutes, no more, and of no real consequence in the bustle of urban life around them both.
But it was not a small thing to the elderly lady – not at all. She was so grateful for that tiny act of kindness that she sat down and composed a letter to the boy’s school. She recognised his uniform and addressed it to his head teacher.
Perhaps it was more than just the relief of someone stronger lifting the burden of her shopping for the last yards to her home, perhaps it was the chance of a pleasant conversation on her way back to an empty house, it could have been an affirmation that the young are nowhere near as bad as the media would have us believe. They care – and she was grateful.
It was also not a small thing to the head teacher who received that letter. As part of a busy day filled with the complex challenge of corralling hundreds of children and teachers down the path of education, an act of human kindness could have been seen as relatively unimportant. But it hit a nerve.
The head teacher was so moved by the letter that he read it out in the next school assembly – but spared the blushes of that young lad by not mentioning him by name. He then put it in a newsletter to parents, showing his pride in how this young man had upheld the compassionate side of what the school strove to instil in their students.
I like to think it was also not a small thing to the hundreds of pupils who listened to that school assembly. It was on a theme built around that letter, which the head teacher used as a prop to explain a simple truth – that acts of kindness are so precious in our pool of humanity that they ripple out to the giver and all those who witness it.
The ‘multiplier effect’ of goodness sounds religious – but even the most ardent atheist knows its value. It is part of human nature to reflect back decency, hospitality, generosity, courtesy, gentleness, grace and humanity. When someone smiles at you, it is very hard not to smile back, even harder to turn away and frown.
So those young people who filed out of that assembly each took away with them a little piece of that initial act of kindness – and the parents who read the newsletter and were moved by it felt a ripple of that goodness too. And so hundreds, maybe thousands of people would have been touched by that blink-and-you’ll-miss-it favour on a busy street involving people they will probably never meet.
The head teacher wrote of his pupil: “The boy remains nameless – but he now knows that we know he did a very good thing.
“This provided a theme for some wider reflections on the multiplier effect of acts of kindness.
“It is increasingly well-known that small acts of kindness are not only good for the beneficiaries, they have also been shown to improve our own wellbeing.
“Some people talk of the ‘kindness boomerang’ which often sees compassionate deeds returned further down the line. Remember Aesop’s fable of the lion and the mouse?
“I hope that kindness is something that characterises this school. As human beings, we will not always get things right, but striving to be kind to one another is surely one of the highest aims to pursue.”
As political turmoil of one kind or another sucks the light out of many modern societies and anger fuels an unparalleled harshness of debate on social media, it is useful to remember that kindness is something we can all reach for. Rich or poor, left or right, old or young – we can all embrace it.
This one act of simple kindness touched so many – and I hope it has touched you too.