The Power of Kindness: Open Season On Goodness

Good deeds go a long way. canstockphoto6494093

In this world where “bad news sells,” it can seem like nobody has time for goodness; but then you experience a moment when something happens to change your mind.

For instance, a few days ago I’d had a really long day, hadn’t slept well the night before, I was tired, my feet hurt, my back hurt and I just wanted to get home and take a load off both; but I had to stop at the grocery store for a couple items first.

Have you ever stopped at a grocery store right after work?  It’s like you and at least half the other people in the state had the same idea at the same time.  Everybody’s tired, everybody’s had a long day and everybody has got somewhere to be, in a hurry.

So as I pulled into the grocery store parking lot and discerned that the only parking spot was way in the back lot about a day’s walk from the front door, I began dreading the scene I was expecting in the store.  “Perfect,” I thought as I felt my attitude slipping into an abyss.

The scene inside was, as expected, pretty chaotic. Dads with kids in tow, moms in high heels racing precariously down the aisles with baskets bumping into office workers in suits and laborers in overalls.  I almost laughed as I thought it reminded me a little of that alien bar scene in “Star Wars,” but the laugh stuck in my throat when I saw the lines at the checkout.

It was a small store, no automated checkout lines and only two or three lines opened with people and baskets cued to infinity; my hopes of a quick in and out were dashed and my attitude sped further down into the abyss.

So vacillating between boiling point and placid resignation, I slumped my way to the two items I needed and dragged myself towards the front expecting that my feet would simply stop working at any moment.

Miraculously, I saw one of the checkout lines emptying just as I was approaching it. It was like one of those moments in a movie where the angels start singing and dramatic orchestra music starts playing as I went into slow motion trying to get to the check out.

But then a young lady with a girl about 8 years old hanging off the basket filled to overflowing and with stuff stacked on the bottom rack cut the angle to the line and beat me to it.

I was devastated.  In my slow-mo condition my mind yelled, “Noooo…”  I remembered that big boys don’t cry so I maintained composure, but something about my disheveled demeanor must have caught the eye of the little girl because she tugged at her mother’s sleeve and said, “Mommy, that man was waiting.”

“What a great kid!” I thought at first, then cringed, fearing that her mother would not be so accommodating. To my joy though, her mom turned to me and said, “You only have two items, why don’t you go first.”  My attitude came up a notch or two from the abyss.

However, my good country upbringing elicited the immediate response, “Oh, that’s OK, you go ahead ma’am,” really not wanting to say that, but knowing I wouldn’t sleep if I didn’t.

“No, I insist,” she said with a genuine smile that was mirrored by the little girl.  She stepped aside and did a very nice courtesy and sort of over-produced regal arm wave that made the girl and I both laugh.  It also made people around us take notice and laugh or smile too.  How could I say no to that!?

So I thanked her very much, I did go first, we chatted a bit as I checkout out and I told her and her daughter how nice they were to do that.  I thanked them again and left the store with a totally different view of the day.  Suddenly, my feet didn’t hurt so much, my back felt pretty good and I didn’t really remember why the day had seemed so long.

I had reached the precipice of the dark abyss, hooked a leg over the top and climbed out into the sunshine, all because of that little display of goodness.

It dawned on me, though, how that one tiny act of goodness had impacted so many people – not just me.

For one thing, it had taught that little girl about putting others first, about being kind to people and how good it makes you feel.  That was a lesson she will no doubt carry forward to others in the future and maybe teach her own daughter someday.

It probably made the lady herself feel better.  It wasn’t a big effort on her part, it didn’t really cost her a lot of time – but she didn’t have to do it, she could just as easily have ignored her daughter and me and gotten checked out and been on her way.  She didn’t though and for that small investment on her part she received my accolades in front of her daughter, who probably brought them home and told the whole family how nice mommy and she had been to this man.

The 30-something fellow who was checking me out saw the whole thing too and I could see in his face the relief created by seeing someone being nice instead of nasty.  The teenage girl who was bagging groceries was grinning too as she watched the interaction.   That brief snippet of goodness may have carried both of them through their shift with just a little more optimism.

Beyond that, who knows how that one speck of goodness had illuminated others who had observed it.  I saw smiles on the faces of people around us when the lady let me go first.  People in line listened as I chatted with the lady and I sensed a general lessening of stress as they witnessed the positive force of a selfless act.

As I walked towards the exit door I glanced back.  Both the lady and her daughter were waving goodbye like we were old friends.  I didn’t know their names and would probably have trouble picking them out in a crowd; it wasn’t one of those encounters where you exchange business cards.

But I think that’s part of the power of goodness.  It’s not as much who they were but what they did.  In fact, I think the act is more powerful because of the anonymity.  It’s not about taking credit; it’s about the personal benefit of doing a good deed.

They say this is the season to show good cheer, but I say the entire year should be open season for goodness.  I encourage Weekenders to go out and do one act of goodness today – or two or three – and repeat as often as needed.  Who knows, maybe goodness is good medicine.

Randy Gaddo , a retired Marine who also served for 15 years in municipal parks and recreation, is now a full-time photojournalist who lives in Beaufort, S.C.; he can be reached at (678) 350-8642 or email