So I walked into a nearby IHOP and I asked for the manager. When she walked up, wondering what anyone could possibly be angry enough about to actually come back in to complain about, I said, "I'd like to buy everyone's breakfast. Could I do that?"
She was shocked. "Everyone?" She gestured at the restaurant full of Sunday brunchers. "Everyone in here?"
"Yes," I said. "Can you help me do that?"
"Um, sure!" Then began a chaotic process of printing bills, adding them up, and explaining to waitresses why their customers' balances were disappearing from the system. Eventually, we gathered up everyone's breakfast bills and I paid it, adding a healthy tip for the by now completely confused wait staff.
As I handed the signed credit card slip back to the manager, she asked, "Why?"
Holding back tears, I said, "Because someone needs to spread some joy today."
Then I left.
Right now, we are a nation divided. Fear, anger, current events, the news, social media, all of these forces are pushing us away from our fellow citizens, driving us into ideological armed camps populated only by people who agree exactly with everything we've decided is true. When we look at each other, we see stereotypes instead of people, labels instead of personalities. We've forgotten how to be civil. In fact, civility and an openness to discourse are starting to be seen as a sign of weakness, as witnessed by the backlash against people seeking a middle ground between the factions in this post-election climate.
The darkness is spreading and we're running around turning out all the lights.
I think it's time we changed that, and I'm starting with the only thing over which I have any real control: myself (and, with my wife's permission, my family). We've grieved, we've reassessed, and now we're heading back into the fight, but probably not how you think.
We're going to fight hate with love, darkness with light, random acts of violence with random acts of kindness. And I'm inviting you to join us.
For the next six weeks, now through the end of the year, my family and I are going on a Blessing Tour. We're going to buy coffee for strangers, send gifts to distant acquaintances, and pay for people's groceries. We're going to raid the Community Giving Tree and buy ALL THE PRESENTS FOR ALL THE POOR FAMILIES! We're going to open our eyes, look beyond our own worries, and see the need around us. Not just the obvious needs, like homeless people on the streets, but the hidden needs, like the mom quietly worrying about her gay daughter while she goes shopping, or the coworker at the office dreading the holidays because it's his first year alone. We're going to turn on all the lights and send the darkness fleeing wherever we go.
We can't do this all by ourselves, so I'm inviting everyone in America to join in. Yes, even you. Will you look away from the news and Facebook and Twitter, step away from your outrage and fear over what "the other side" -- whoever that may be -- are doing and just try to make life better for the real people sitting right next to you? Will you turn on one light and make the world just a little bit brighter? And if that feels good, maybe another, then another, and maybe even another after that?
It's easy to start:
Do something small for a stranger. Anonymously.
- It's a complete surprise. If you ask for your check and the waitress says, "Someone already took care of it," then you get a moment of pure joy and gratitude, two things that we all need right now.
- There's no way for them to pay you back, so there's no strings attached. It's kindness for kindness' sake.
- Buy dinner for someone who's eating alone at the same restaurant. Just ask the waitress to quietly add their meal to your bill, then skedaddle.
- Pay for the car behind you at a drive-through, then take off before they can get your license plate.
- Pay for the groceries for that old lady at the store who always takes ten minutes to find exact change. This is harder to do anonymously, but it does have the added benefit of getting you though the checkout line more quickly.
Go wide. If you can, go big.
- Buy a gift card at your favorite coffee shop, then hand it to the person taking orders and ask them to use it to buy everyone else's drinks until it runs out.
- Tell the bartender at your favorite brewpub that the next round is on you, but don't let them tell anyone who's paying.
- Rake your neighbors’ leaves this weekend before they can get to it, or shovel their driveway when it snows.
- Grab a bunch of small gift requests for poor families at your local community center, Salvation Army, or church and go shopping.
- Hit Costco and show up at your local food bank with a carload of food. Involve another family and make it two carloads at the same time.
Or, go deep.
- Seek out “holiday orphans” and invite them to join in your celebrations.
- Look for people around you who are "faking it" and invite them for coffee or a meal so they can talk.
- Find the perfect gift for that friend who doesn't seem to have anything going right in their lives right now.
- Volunteer at a counseling center or in some other role where you think you can help.