Power of a Small Kindness
It is midmorning in central Tokyo, a beautiful clear day in early June. A cab driver pulls over to clear some garbage bags off the street so they dont pose a danger to traffic.Skip to next paragraph
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A woman walking her dog sees him and comes over to help. They exchange a few words. She is impressed by his consideration of others, so she sends a short note of thanks to his company.
The company asks her to nominate him for a certificate of appreciation handed out by a Japanese organization interested in such things. When the driver hears about his award from the Small Kindness Movement, he is pleased but finds it a little bit embarrassing. Shifting the garbage bags really wasnt a big deal at all, he says.
Maybe so. But the woman, a well-traveled flight attendant and mother of two, named Yoko Suzuki, believes otherwise. If every person would act like him, she says of the driver, Akira Kamata, this society would become a much better place to live.
Ms. Suzukis statement sums up the philosophy of the Small Kindness Movement, which was founded to encourage Japanese to provide a warm welcome during the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games. More than three decades later, this group is going global, linking up with like-minded organizations in other countries. They envision a nonreligious, nonpolitical world kindness movement that they expect to inaugurate in November a mobilization based on the idea that doing simple, spontaneous things for others can have profound consequences.
It turns out, in this world of rising economic angst and indiscretion in high places, amid all the talk of lost values and broken societies, that some people are intent on practicing an almost subversive sort of decency.
Being nice for the sake of being nice is easier in some places than in others. In Japan, for instance, kindness promoters must work around cultural obstacles that dissuade people from doing favors for people they dont know. But Will Glennon, chairman of the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation in Berkeley, Calif., says Americans are eager to know more about how to be nicer to others. I feel like were in a booming growth market and were highly undercapitalized, he says of the foundation.
Japans Small Kindness Movement got its start during a graduation day speech at the University of Tokyo. Seiji Kaya, then president of the university, told his audience to be brave in practicing small kindnesses, thereby creating a wave of kindness that will someday wash over all of Japanese society.
Funded by the government, corporations, and philanthropic groups, the movement now employs 23 people and claims to have handed out more than 3 million awards during its nearly 35 years in existence. It has more than 400,000 active members, who pay an annual fee (between $15 and $75, depending on their means) to support the movement.