You don’t actually have to take the quiz. Just read it straight through and you’ll get the point it makes.
1. Name the five wealthiest people in the world.
2. Name the last five Heisman trophy winners.
3. Name the last five winners of the Miss America contest.
4. Name ten people who have won the Nobel or Pulitzer prize.
5. Name the last half dozen Academy Award winners for best actor and actress.
6. Name the last decade’s worth of World Series winners.
How did you do?
The point is, none of us remember the headliners of yesterday. These are no second-rate achievers. They are the best in their fields. But the applause dies. Awards tarnish. Achievements are forgotten. Accolades and certificates are buried with their owners.
Here’s another quiz. See how you do on this one:
1. List a few teachers who aided your journey through school.
2. Name three friends who have helped you through a difficult time.
3. Name five people who have taught you something worthwhile.
4. Think of a few people who have made you feel appreciated and special.
5. Think of five people you enjoy spending time with.
6. Name half a dozen heroes whose stories have inspired you.
Easier? What is the lesson? The people who make a difference in your life are not the ones with the most credentials, the most money, or the most awards. They are the ones that care. How about you? Do you care about your fellow citizens?
Our news media constantly reports random cruelties and senseless acts of violence. Our political parties have become openly hostile toward each other and wage hate-filled negative campaigns interlarded with lies, which they call “spin.” Wouldn’t be a wonder if we all ignored the media and politicians and just started trying to be good people who are kind to other people. Following is a story about people who are doing just that.
It’s a crisp winter day in San Francisco. A woman in a red Honda, Christmas presents piled in the back, drives up to the Bay Bridge tollbooth. ‘I’m paying for myself, and for the six cars behind me,’ she says with a smile, handing over seven commuter tickets. One after another, the next six drivers arrive at the tollbooth, dollars in hand, only to be told, ‘Some lady up ahead already paid your fare. Have a nice day.’
The woman in the Honda, it turned out, had read something on an index card taped to a friend’s refrigerator: ‘Practice random kindness and senseless acts of beauty.’ The phrase seemed to leap out at her, and she copied it down. Judy Foreman spotted the same phrase spray-painted on a warehouse wall a hundred miles from her home. When it stayed on her mind for days, she gave up and drove all the way back to copy it down. ‘I thought it was incredibly beautiful,’ she said, explaining why she’s taken to writing it at the bottom of all her letters, ‘like a message from above.’
Her husband Frank liked the phrase so much that he put it up on the wall for his seventh graders, one of whom was the daughter of a local columnist. The columnist put it in the paper, admitting that though she liked it, she didn’t know where it came from or what it really meant. Two days later, she heard from Anne Herbert. Tall, blonde and forty, Herbert lives in Marin, one of the country’s ten richest counties, where she house-sits, takes odd jobs and gets by. It was in a Sausalito restaurant that Herbert jotted the phrase down on a paper place mat, after turning it around in her mind for days. ‘That’s wonderful!’ a man sitting nearby said, and copied it down carefully on his own place mat.
‘Here’s the idea,’ Herbert says. ‘Anything you think there should be more of, do it randomly.’ Her own fantasies include: breaking into depressing-looking schools to paint the classrooms; leaving hot meals on kitchen tables in the poor parts of town; slipping money into a proud old woman’s purse.
Says Herbert, ‘kindness can build on itself as much violence can.’ Now the phrase is spreading, on bumper stickers, on walls, at the bottom of letters and business cards. And as it spreads, so does a vision of guerrilla goodness. ‘The phrase is spreading, on bumper stickers, on walls, at the bottom of letters and business cards. And as it spreads, so does a vision of guerrilla goodness In Portland, Oregon, a man might plunk a coin into a stranger’s meter just in time. In Patterson, New Jersey, a dozen people with pails and mops and tulip bulbs might descend on a rundown house and clean it from top to bottom while the frail elderly owners look on, dazed and smiling. In Chicago, a teenage boy may be shoveling off the driveway when the impulse strikes. What the hell, nobody’s looking, he thinks, and shovels the neighbor’s driveway too.
It’s positive anarchy, disorder, a sweet disturbance. A woman in Boston writes ‘Merry Christmas!’ to the tellers on the back of her checks. A man in St Louis, whose car has just been rear-ended by a young woman, waves her away, saying, ‘It’s a scratch. Don’t worry.’ Senseless acts of beauty spread: a man plants daffodils along the roadway, his shirt billowing in the breeze from passing cars. In Seattle, a man appoints himself a one man vigilante sanitation service and roams the concrete hills collecting litter in a supermarket cart. In Atlanta, a man scrubs graffiti from a green park bench. They say you can’t smile without cheering yourself up a little – likewise, you can’t commit a random act of kindness without feeling as if your own troubles have been lightened if only because the world has become a slightly better place.
‘Like all revolutions, guerrilla goodness begins slowly, with a single act’ and you can’t be a recipient without feeling a shock, a pleasant jolt. If you were one of those rush-hour drivers who found your bridge fare paid, who knows what you might have been inspired to do for someone else later? Wave someone on in the intersection? Smile at a tired clerk? Or something larger, greater? Like all revolutions, guerrilla goodness begins slowly, with a single act. Let it be yours.
Michael Michalko is the author of the highly acclaimed Thinkertoys: A Handbook of Creative Thinking Techniques; Cracking Creativity: The Secrets of Creative Genius; ThinkPak: A Brainstorming Card Deck and Creative Thinkering: Putting Your Imagination to Work.