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Ah, remember those great New Year’s Resolutions you made? Sure you do: “Eat right.” “Exercise.” “Lose weight.” “Be thriftier.” “Do more to pay off debts.” “Travel.” “Start checking things off my bucket list.”
What do all these have in common? Me, me, me. No judgment—we all need to take care of our bodies, minds, and spirits. So let’s check in, now that the New Year isn’t so new anymore. How are you doing? Making any progress?
Most people don’t, for some reason. They have good intentions, and want to keep their resolutions, but somehow old patterns intrude and those well-meaning New Year’s declarations slide.
Perhaps we actually need a deeper, more spiritual resolution to make those other changes possible:
Act in accordance with the counsels of the Lord: that is, rise up in such wise, and with such qualities, as to endow the body of this world with a living soul, and to bring this young child, humanity, to the stage of adulthood. So far as ye are able, ignite a candle of love in every meeting, and with tenderness rejoice and cheer ye every heart. Care for the stranger as for one of your own; show to alien souls the same loving kindness ye bestow upon your faithful friends. Should any come to blows with you, seek to be friends with him; should any stab you to the heart, be ye a healing salve unto his sores; should any taunt and mock at you, meet him with love. Should any heap his blame upon you, praise ye him; should he offer you a deadly poison, give him the choicest honey in exchange; and should he threaten your life, grant him a remedy that will heal him evermore. Should he be pain itself, be ye his medicine; should he be thorns, be ye his roses and sweet herbs. Perchance such ways and words from you will make this darksome world turn bright at last; will make this dusty earth turn heavenly, this devilish prison place become a royal palace of the Lord — so that war and strife will pass and be no more, and love and trust will pitch their tents on the summits of the world. Such is the essence of God’s admonitions… – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 34.
So have you ever considered making a resolution to help others? I guarantee you that when you help others, you help your own spirit, and you make it much more likely that you’ll have the spiritual strength and the inner resources to make your other New Year’s resolutions stick. That most prolific writer of sage advice, Anonymous, tells us that “Happiness is like jam. You can’t spread even a little without getting some on yourself.”
It’s not too late—the year is still mostly new—so I suggest that we all make a resolution to find some way to help someone else. If you have more time than money, perhaps a regular volunteer position with one of your favorite charities, read to students or volunteer in their classroom. Make visits to nursing homes or to someone who is housebound. If you have more money than time, donate to those charities, buy supplies for teachers or the local animal shelter. If you want to affect someone in a more personal manner, donate to someone you know is in need. You might even consider doing it in the manner of that famous writer: anonymously. If you don’t have the time to give on a consistent basis, but would like to be personally involved, there are countless ways to perform random acts of kindness. There’s even a website devoted to the topic, appropriate named randomactsofkindness.org. You can read stories people have posted about acts of kindness they’ve performed or received. They have lists of ideas sorted by time, cost, and category. There is also a section with inspirational quotes.
I was once surprised—and delighted— by a random act of kindness. A simple one. While walking up State Street in downtown Santa Barbara, California, a diminutive, dapper old gentleman carrying an armful of long-stemmed roses approached me. With a wink and a bow, but not a word, he handed me a rose and kept going, likely seeking other strangers to surprise with the bounty of his spirit. I didn’t stop smiling all day.
Avianne Tan of Good Morning America reported about a fellow in Parker, Colorado who honored a deceased friend by standing on a corner wearing a hoodie and holding up a cardboard sign. People, supposing he sought a handout, were startled when they stopped, rolled down their windows, and saw that his sign read, “Smile, I’ll give you a buck.” Many asked his name. He replied, “Carl Ramsey.” He later explained to the local news media that Carl was a friend he’d greatly admired. Carl’s positive personality and character made people feel good just to be around him. The fellow declined to give out his own name. In the humble way of Anonymous, he let all the attention and appreciation remain squarely with Carl.
Let’s keep this advice from the Baha’i teachings in mind as we make and strive to keep any resolutions that involve kindness: “Care for the stranger as for one of your own; show to alien souls the same loving kindness ye bestow upon your faithful friends.”