For just 44 cents you can make a complete stranger surprisingly happy.
Today I dropped by Greenwich Letterpress, my favorite card shop in the West Village, to buy a birthday card and a just-wanted-to-say-hello card. Since I planned on mailing these after class I brought a book of stamps with me. Upon purchasing a single “thank you” card, the woman in front of me asked the clerk where she could purchase a stamp. Seeing as I had eight stamps and that I only needed two, I offered to give her one. For a moment the woman seemed totally confused, even skeptical, as if I were trying to pull something over on her, then she tried to give me a dollar (which, of course I refused), and finally she became so happy upon realizing that I simply wanted to give her something without expecting anything in return that she offered to buy me a thank you card.
Really, it wasn’t a big deal. I just wanted to save her the trouble of locating a post office and then waiting in line for just one little stamp. It seemed ridiculous. Initially I was really pleased that I could make someone so flabbergastingly happy over such a small act. But later, it bothered me that we live in a society in which disbelief is the first reaction to a person doing a nice simple deed. A 44-cent stamp. A stamp that I already had with me. Something that took essentially no effort at all.
It’s not to say that small acts of kindness are totally unusual. In fact, my roommate shared a story with me this evening about going to a coffee shop and realizing too late that the café did not accept credit cards. He only had a dollar, but a woman behind him in line offered to pay for his coffee. He was surprised and appreciative. A random act of kindness. Simple and sweet.
It may be no surprise that one of my favorite movies is Le Fabuleux Destin d’Amélie Poulain (or more simply known as Amélie), a story about a beautiful and awkward shy girl who decides to change the lives of those around her for the better. For some it may seem that Amélie is a dreamer who lives in a quirky, super-saturated postcard universe, but I actually think this movie is about pragmatic idealism. Be the change you want to see. Perform small acts of kindness that transforms another person’s day or notions about life. Perhaps you set out to make things better for others and realize it’s your own life that needs fixing. In any case, the character Amélie and I share a romantic vision of the world in which people connect and transform by means of small and tangible acts. The power of kindness, recognition, and love. Taking pleasure in helping others. Whether it’s 44 cents, five minutes or a couple of kind words, great things can be accomplished by small deeds. Be kind.