Column by Timothy Chipp —
What did you ask for your last birthday? Maybe a new car, or some new clothes. Or maybe you wanted your spouse to pay more attention to you.
Tuesday I turned 31, a not so special age to celebrate. Instead of making a big deal for myself, I decided to try to make the lives of strangers — people I’ve never met and will never get to know — a little bit better through some random acts of kindness. I enlisted the help of some of my friends to do it, too.
They took to the streets of Niagara, Buffalo, Florida, Washington, D.C. and other, less glamorous locales to make a difference in the world, even if it was just a temporary one. My friends, to steal a baseball euphemism, hit it out of the park Tuesday. And it was clear the ones who participated fully received the payoff they’d hoped for.
One of my buddies from my other life besides newspaper reporter – acting – was rewarded with a smile on the face of a woman he’d just met in a hallway of a local hospital where he works, the best possible payment for his action. Having just come across this woman, he noticed she was visibly frazzled by something happening. So he went out of his way to buy her a coffee and a muffin and presented it to her.
“It appeared to make her day,” he told me over Facebook later that evening.
Others paid for gasoline purchases for strangers or helped supermarket shoppers grab items they weren’t capable of reaching themselves. Some took on extra work to help their colleagues and helped lighten the load on their shoulders.
That’s the ultimate goal behind experiments like this one. Those of us who perform these random acts don’t look for payment in return, we don’t look for exposure in newspapers and television coverage. We’re after the smiles that come to the faces of our targets and the thank you’s they deliver, often overjoyed.
Making the decision I made wasn’t difficult. For me, it’s almost second nature. I’ve always been one to give back to whatever community I call home, frequently volunteering for charities or making sure those around me are cared for.
But this request actually stems from a less-than-successful attempt at something grander last year, when I turned the big three-oh.
Turning 30 is supposed to be one of those milestone birthdays, when we lose the innocence of our 20s and start looking at life like an adult. The excuses go out the window with our good looks and idealistic values. So when I turned 30, I decided to call on my friends for a major social experiment.
I’d recently gotten hooked by an international organization called charity: water, which builds clean water wells in third-world countries and desperately wanted to give to them. But money was tight and I wasn’t able to give as much as I wanted. so instead, I gave up my birthday to the organization and asked for my friends, colleagues and family members to donate money instead of buy me presents. I set a $300 goal to reach during the month of September, a goal my campaign ultimately failed to achieve.
But I wasn’t discouraged by the negative outcome. The money still went to Rwanda, the country the organization helped with its September program last year. And trying the program out got me going. It got me thinking. It got me interested in making sure that, at least on my birthday, people I’ll never meet, people I’ll never interact with, get to wear a smile on their faces.
After all, isn’t that what we all want.
Contact reporter Timothy Chipp at 282-2311, ext. 2251 or follow on Twitter @timchipp.