Practicing the Art Of Guerrilla Goodness

I SAW an authentic act of random kindness and senseless beauty yesterday when I was down at the beach. As I jogged along, I noticed a well-dressed man in a navy- blue blazer picking up cola cans, paper, and other debris. He was taking his time and obviously enjoying himself. I waved. He waved back.

Later, I saw him again, loading a big sack of trash into the trunk of his BMW. "Thank you," I said. "I wish more people did what you are doing."

"Well," he said with a big smile, "We all have to start where we are, and do what we can, don't we?"

I nodded in agreement, wondering to myself if he knew he was practicing what writer Anne Herbert calls random kindness and senseless beauty.

Herbert's full directive, which is popping up everywhere, reads: "Practice random kindness and senseless acts of beauty."

Only a few years after Herbert first penned these words on a place mat in a Sausalito, Calif., restaurant, her slogan has found its way into hearts and homes nationwide and has inspired countless good deeds. I see it on bumper stickers (we have it on the VW van), stationery, and campaign-style buttons. It also appears taped to refrigerator doors, written on the back of checks, printed on business cards, and rubber-stamped in rainbow colors on envelopes.

Herbert encourages people to spread her vision of "guerrilla goodness." "Anything you think there should be more of," she says, "do it randomly. Kindness can build on itself as much as violence can."

I first read about Herbert's invitations to spread kindness and beauty in a computer conference a few years ago and became an instant convert to her cause. What forms, I wondered, might random kindness and senseless acts of beauty take in my own life? I became more sensitive to the needs of others, especially total strangers.

Random kindness, I discovered, most often happens in small unobtrusive gestures and actions - a thoughtful word, an appropriate gift that meets a genuine need, a few moments of patient listening. Random kindness is a thing you do for its own sake, for the sheer joy of giving with no strings attached. I discovered that the practice of random kindness and senseless beauty can be a full-time job.

Some acts of kindness and beauty can go on for years. Consider Ernie LaMere, creator of "Ernie's Walk" in Sherman Oaks, Calif. Five years ago, appalled at the garbage and debris he saw on a stretch of the Los Angeles River bank near his home, Ernie organized his community and got the city to take action. After the cleanup, only bare dirt was left. Ernie decided he wanted to prove to the world "that one man could make a difference to the environment."

He began by planting geraniums and marigolds from his own garden. Neighbors pitched in with donations of time and plants. Soon, a beautification program was under way.

Today, what used to be an overgrown public- service road is a quarter-mile nature trail and garden, a paradise of pepper trees, wisteria, and canna lilies. There are benches, hand-painted signs, magazines to read. "Everybody has really gotten into the spirit of this thing," says Ernie.

What forms might "random kindness" take in your own life? The possibilities are as large as imagination itself. You might slip a coin into a parking meter that was about to expire, saving a stranger a parking violation. You might deliver a bag of groceries to a needy household. You might say something positive and encouraging to everyone you meet today, or scatter wild flower seeds along a bleak stretch of highway just before the rainy season. You might scrub graffiti off a wall. You might, just for fun,

pay the bridge toll of the car behind you when you drive to work tomorrow.

Did the man I saw cleaning up the beach know about "random kindness and senseless acts of beauty?" Did he know he was part of a growing revolution of kindred spirits who are creating a cleaner, friendlier world?

"Like all revolutions," one observer writes, "Guerrilla goodness begins slowly, with a single act. Let it be yours."

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