Yesterday, a friend of mine called to tell me about a little project she was working on that she was really excited about. Excited…but also a bit nervous. She wanted to craft a thank you card for an artist she admires because she had received the item he created in the mail that day (which she had ordered) and felt so much joy because of it. Especially when she realized that he had mailed the package himself.
She thought about how lovely, detailed and well thought out this item was and decided that she just had to send him something to show her appreciation. Yes, it was something she paid for, but she felt inspired by the idea of someone “making beautiful things and sending them out into the world.”
This got me to thinking about why I have, in the past, had occasion to reject the idea of doing something nice for another person – if there wasn’t a good enough reason or some sort of obligation for me to do it. I’ve talked myself out of it in the past because I’ve had people tell me that the person probably just wants to be left alone, as if saying thank you to a stranger is some horrible intrusion. Or because I’ve had people tell me that “people will think you’re weird” (it seems unlikely there are that many people around who haven’t figured that one out yet).
I remember leaving my first Tori Amos concert with the two girls I went with (obviously a very long time ago) and being told by one of them that no, we were not going to try to see if we could go meet her because she probably just wanted to be left alone. I found out later that Tori had stuck around for a very long time, talking to people and hugging them, because that’s just the kind of wonderful gal she is. I really regretted listening to my pessimistic pal.
Why is it so off-putting to do something nice, to show appreciation? Obviously there are boundaries, limitations. None of us want someone we admire or someone we’re just being kind to (just because we feel like it) to turn around and treat us like we’re harassing them or expecting some kind of reciprocal behavior. Of course we, the senders, hope that the recipients will feel appreciated and/or maybe even decide to spread that joy further. But why would anyone be so cynical, so unable to believe that someone went out of their way to do something with no expectation of getting anything in return? Is it so hard to believe we do it just for the sheer joy of it?
It’s unpleasant when the reaction is negative, but we face the risk because, for each one of those times when you feel that someone has sucked all the joy out of the nice thing you did, there are dozens of people who you made smile or who let you know they were just as excited about it as you were or who, without knowing it, had a better day because of something small that you did. If someone doesn’t react well, then as my friend told me, “they’re just not your people.” And that’s fine. But an act of kindness that is made because you knew it would make you feel good, and you hoped it would make others feel good, as well, is a positive thing and should be treated as such. If nothing else, it’s always good for the soul of the sender.