While getting my morning coffee at a local coffee shop today, a neighbor kindly introduced himself and we shared a friendly conversation. An acquaintance invited me to an exercise class I have been interested in trying. On the walk home, several drivers waved pleasant greetings; I have no idea who any of them were. None of these encounters cost a penny, but all of them put a smile on my face for the day.
I have been thinking about what random act of kindness I will perform today, which led me to reflect on the national holiday we celebrate this February 17 in honor of two of America’s greatest presidents, George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. Both were courageous leaders in times of turmoil and need. One helped found our country and one keep our union intact. Both gave of themselves in pursuit of a common good, a greater good, and both committed great personal sacrifice to meet these ends. Both lived by codes of conduct, the foundations of which included civility and decency. Honor and respect were not hollow words for Washington and Lincoln, who instead embodied the finest qualities these words convey.
Our anemic public discourse currently lacks civility and decency. Mutual respect seems to have been stripped from civic life; the snarls and name-calling and finger-pointing that have filled this void are unhealthy and inadequate substitutes. Random acts of kindness, by definition, are random; availing oneself of the opportunities to treat others with kindness should be an aspiration for this day and every day. President’s Day honors leaders who were anything but random in their behavior; their codes of conduct measured civility not as an occasional by-product, but the bedrock of public life.
So, look for and take an opportunity to extend random kindness today to someone. President’s Day is also an opportunity to re-commit to practiced civility toward all neighbors – the strong and powerful, the meek and humble, those who agree with us and those whose views we do not share.