Dear Chilliwops,

A great man once said to me “do unto others as you would have done unto yourself,” a quote widely known as “the Golden Rule”. I believe he may have extracted that rule from the Bible as I am led to believe he went through a period in his life during which he was quite religious.

That was before I was born. Around the time of my birth – possibly even before, of that I am unsure – he may have decided no God could be so cruel as to permit the conception of a kid such as I.

Or perhaps he came to the conclusion that no God could permit such pain, starvation, unspeakable hardship, cruelty, disease or the myriad of other negative things we see on our planet daily. Perhaps he decided Charles Darwin was right. All I know is that man of few words once told me, “I know where I am going when I die; six foot under!”

Whatever the reason, he lost his belief in religion and adopted a less emotional or even esoteric consideration of where we stand in the scheme of things and decided that a more scientific look at the universe and life generally is appropriate.

But he maintained that motto. It is not a bad philosophy on life is it?

That same philosophy is expressed in other books of religion, not just the Bible. Take the Koran, for example. This is a direct quote: “Son, if you are able, keep your heart…. free from malice toward anyone.” And “The best charity is that given to a relative who does not like you.”

There are also the teachings of Buddha: “Live in joy, in love, even among those who hate. Live in joy, in health, even among the afflicted. Live in joy, in peace, even among the troubled. Look within. Be still. Free from fear and attachment, know the sweet joy of living in the way.”

There are many expressions of encouragement to be good to others and therefore good to ourselves. Many writings, historic and new, that are positive towards your fellow human beings. I have repeated just a few of them in this letter.

The essential message here is that one doesn’t have to adopt a religious stance to spread well wishes and do good for humanity. Of course most religious and philosophical teachings would suggest mankind should be kind to each other. They also advocate freedom of thought and freedom of speech.

Don’t think for a moment that I am anti-religion. I certainly am not. We all need to believe in something – whether that be a religious belief, belief in love, belief in trust, belief in the goodness of people, belief in a football team, belief in a cricket team, belief in your winning nature, belief in yourself. And we all need hope. For some people a religious belief gives them hope.

But I suggest to you that one doesn’t need to be religious or believe in Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Zeus, Athena, sun worship or any other form of religion to want to do good for mankind.

Most importantly we should consider random acts of kindness? That phrase is becoming a more common expression in our community, especially when community leaders and people whom we respect adopt the phrase. I have heard it expressed by others and I have also chosen those same words in a couple of speeches I have made.

What can we all realistically do? Firstly, we can make a commitment to having a crack at it. Adopt a kind stance for a day, then a week and extend it beyond that to make a habit of it.

The acts don’t have to be monumental. What would you do if you are standing in the check-out line at a shopping centre with a trolley full of items; you are next to occupy the time of the shop assistant; a person lines up behind you with only one or two items. Are you going to push on and delay progress for the customer behind you or are you going to invite that person to go through first? Think about it. It is simple really and an act of kindness if you allow the next person in line to go through before you. Not monumental but I guarantee you and the other person will feel really good.

Here is another example – an actual occurrence: It is a crisp winter day (northern hemisphere) in San Francisco. A woman in a red Honda, Christmas presents piled high in the back of her vehicle, drives up to the San Francisco Bay Bridge toll booth. “I’m paying for myself and for the six cars behind me,” she says with a smile. One after another, the next six drivers arrive at the toll booth, money in hand, only to be told, “Some lady up ahead paid your fare. Have a nice day.”

The woman in the Honda had read something on an index card taped to a friend’s fridge: “Practice random acts of kindness and senseless acts of beauty.” The phrase leapt out at her; I hope it leaps at you.

It was a small example and it could be contagious. As I said, it doesn’t have to be a huge act on your part. It can start with small acts – hold the door open for a stranger, simply smile at a stranger and say “good morning”, send a friendly email without being prompted, leave a note on another kid’s bicycle saying “I hope you have a great day”. It actually means more if you don’t sign it.

Whilst I don’t always promote web sites I want you to know there is a site for the “Random Acts of Kindness Foundation”. The site provides ideas for random acts. But I don’t think it is really a random act if somebody suggests it to you do you? It is a random act if you spontaneously do something kind. But I guess you have to start somewhere.

When Nanna and I travel overseas to third world countries and we see people begging for money we always give them something. But just as importantly it is worth stopping to chat to the beggar. Give them a sense of worth – “somebody actually wants to chat to me. Somebody actually recognises me as a human being,” they might think. A little thing like that could change their life. Who knows? And it didn’t cost anything except a few minutes.

Choose to adopt random acts of kindness as a new approach to life! Commit yourself to promote senseless acts of beauty. It is a wonderful and worthy spiritual experience and it may even be contagious.

I think that was the message instilled in me from that great man, my Pop, when I was a little boy.

Love always,
Your Popple.

*Anton Clever is well into his seventh decade … a former teacher, soldier, farm hand, lawyer and businessman (not in that order). He has travelled extensively for business and for international clients. More recently he has started writing … currently a thriller (which will probably not be worthy of publication, he says) and has written but not published a series of “postcards” from various places (specifically, Victoria, Papua New Guinea, France, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, Iran) referring to experiences in those places. He has also written for several magazines on unusual subjects but matters worthy of debate.