The dictate: perform random acts of kindness.

I pay an acquaintance a compliment. I pay
total strangers compliments too. Do verbal
acts—these complimentary truths I may not
ordinarily voice—count as kindnesses? And
are they random?

I help a couple of people with heavy bags or
items that fell. Are those random acts of
kindness? Wouldn’t anyone lend a hand in
such situations? Does it count when I
regularly help folks in this way?

What is random anyway? In statistical terms,
random selection means everyone has an
equal probability of being chosen. But most of
us think of it as meaning something more like
moving through life haphazardly, without
clear aim or discernible pattern. In any sense
of the word, it isn’t clear my actions are
random—not everyone has an equal chance
of being chosen (do they?)—and I had an aim
to be kind, to help, or to compliment beauty
as this beholder sees it.

What can I do, then, that is different from
what I normally do? And can I actually do
something truly randomly?

I take a crisp ten-dollar bill and seek to give
it away. To whom should I give it?

Not her…too many rings and things and a
pricey coffee in hand; she must not need it.
Not him…giving it to a homeless person is too
obviously not random as he needs it so much.
Or does he? Maybe ring lady is in more need,
weighed down by debt from which the
homeless man may be free. Maybe she could
use this tiny bit of cash to make an ever-so-
tiny effort to pull herself out of the abyss she
created with her possible addiction to
material things. But maybe homeless man
needs some food, or booze, or neither, or
both. Should it matter? I hear people say,
“Don’t give money to beggars, they’ll
probably just buy booze.” What’s the
difference in giving money to her if she’s
addicted to things and coffee drinks, or to him
if he’s addicted to alcohol?

Maybe that girl…she’s riding the bus, so
maybe she needs it if she can’t afford a car.
Oh wait, maybe she rides the bus because
she’s eco-sensitive. And why is
need coming
into play here? I dismiss one person for
maybe needing it too little, and another for
maybe needing it too much. If need is a
prerequisite for a random act of kindness,
then the act is not random.

What about the people in between…neither
the rich nor the poor, but the working- or
middle-class Joe or Jane like me? How many
times have I slipped between the cracks for
not having enough money to, say, have my
parents pay for school but making just a few
dollars too much to qualify for this or that
grant or need-based scholarship? Too many.
How many thousands of dollars did I rack up
in student loans because of being neither rich
nor poor? Too many.

And it isn’t just with school. I’d fallen in
between so many other cracks throughout life
because I was average…not pretty enough but
not ugly enough, not smart enough but not
dumb enough, not well-off enough but not
bad-off enough. How many times had I
thought, “If I make it big one day, I’ll have a
scholarship for people like me…a ‘fallen
between the cracks’ grant or a ‘white trash’
scholarship.” Not that I am or was, nor my
family, trash. Far from it. But we just too
often got set aside or thrown away like so
much forgettable trash in our invisible gray-
beige ordinariness. Would I have been better
off had decisions been made truly randomly?
Hard to say.

I find I want to give the ten dollars to all of
them, to each one. I wish I could give
hundred-dollar bills instead. I wish I had a
stack of bills to pass out without thought or
judgment “just because,” and watch, or
maybe not, the different reactions—in them,
in myself. But I have just this one ten-dollar
bill. To give as a random act of kindness.

I suppose random would suggest that any
person is as good as the next—give it to the
first person you see, or the tenth, but don’t
let the mind come into play or it isn’t random,
even if it is a kindness. I can’t seem to get my
mind out of the way.

But what inhibits us may also protect us.
Maybe the mind helps free us when we are
paralyzed by choice and must make a
decision. A decision that is more meaningful
to us than another, even if the decision—in
the case of
random acts—is to be as
meaningless as possible in order to be free of
attachment to the process or the outcome.

I go to the gas station and watch six-pack-abs
guy in his he-man-gobble-gas Hummer. I
watch Barbie Doll girl in her ooooh-my-red-
sports car. I watch a family of four in the
minivan with DVD players to keep the kids
noisily quiet and completely uneducated to
the geographic setting, street names, or
landmarks in their world. I watch the tired
day-laborers in a beat-up truck, hoping this
gringo is a good guy who will actually pay
them when he drops them off in the barrio. I
see them hoping they’ll have enough money
to feed and shelter themselves with some left
to send home to their families in Latin

Then I see her. I see the ordinary-looking
woman in her forties in ordinary clothes
driving an ordinary, nondescript car. How
often does someone pay her a compliment, or
even give her a second look, with that mousy
brown hair, lackluster skin, and average
figure? Probably not very often. Maybe never.
How often does someone say “nice ride”—
unless sarcastically—about that boring,
practical car? Has anyone ever had sympathy,
or empathy, for her when whatever situations
she must deal with in her workaday,
mundane life are not obvious or political?

I wish I could just hand the money to her and
walk off, but that feels too awkward. Instead,
I smile as I approach her as she pumps gas. I
offer some justification for my act, saying,
“Aren’t gas prices just unbelievable these
days? Here…this is for you…” I extend the ten-
dollar bill, and a brief, curious look passes
over her face. “…to offset the price of your
gas, or to do with what you will.” She takes
the bill with a “Thank you” in return, as if
she’d never been given anything before.

I turn and walk to my car without looking
back. I don’t need to look in the mirror of this
woman’s face. In my overactive mind, which
protects my oversensitive heart, I thank her.
I thank her for the reminder that too often
we turn away kindnesses…too often we don’t
see or hear or accept them when they are
offered. I only hope when my turn comes—
whether in the guise of a subtle compliment,
a ten-dollar bill from a stranger, or the fully
loaded proverbial ship coming in—that I have
the grace to not block the flow. That I have
the wisdom to not feel unworthy, but simply
to accept it with a simple “Thank you.”

Stephanie deLusé’s writing explores the tensions of influences that
exist in and around us. She has work in literary journals such as The
Griffin, The MacGuffin, Emeritus Voices, and The Legendary, and in
academic journals including Family Court Review, Issues in
Integrative Studies, and Family Process. She has essays in books like
The Psychology of Survivor, The Psychology of Joss Whedon, and The
Psychology of Superheroes. Her first book, Arizona State University
(Arcadia), came out in 2012. By day, she professes in Barrett, the
Honors College at Arizona State University. Her writing has earned a
Pushcart nomination and her teaching has won awards, including
“Last Lecture.”
by Stephanie R. deLusé
I take a crisp
ten-dollar bill and
seek to give it
away. To whom
should I give it?