Stuart McLean, host of the Vinyl Cafe on CBC radio, gives out annual awards for small acts of kindness.
A man named Mark, the recipient of one of this year’s awards, described these small actions as “little pillows.” What a perfect way to think about those things we can do for one another, as Mark says, to “soften the blows of daily life.”
As I see it, these “little pillows” are not the same as “random acts of kindness.” They are not random at all, but instead are deliberate and intentional actions with which we acknowledge the vulnerability of each member of our community, and connect to the humanity of the other.
Little pillows can be as small as a smile, or a nod to acknowledge a passer-by. They can be recognized in the act of listening to a child or an elder, or to the next-door neighbor who has come home in a surly mood after a difficult day at work.
Every time we choose to engage in civil and respectful discourse with our neighbors or workmates instead of hurling harsh invectives, we invite the possibility of peaceful resolution rather than residual resentment. We could think of our efforts at communication and understanding as little pillows.
Those of us who work in elementary education know that children often arrive at school fresh from witnessing hurtful arguments between parents or older siblings, or hearing worried conversations about finances or illness. The little pillows of kindness and compassion we offer to these students each morning can ease their minds and hearts, allowing them to concentrate better on academic studies. And when their parents come into our school building, the little pillows we keep on hand are ready to help ease their worries and to offer reassurance and support.
Little pillows are present when someone speaks up for another in the face of injustice. Sometimes when attacked, it’s hard for a person to summon the energy to respond in a strong and self-assured manner. It often takes a friend or an acquaintance or even a stranger to object to unfairness or bigotry, and to demand civility.
In our community, the little pillows we can offer may take the form of safe and secure shelter for homeless families, medical services for low-income children, and respectful care for senior citizens.
When we encounter people who look or sound different from ourselves, we can remember that immigrants to our country, whether documented or undocumented, are most likely here because of their quest for a better life for their families, and we can offer little pillows of compassion and opportunity, rather than suspicion and hatred.
We could extend acceptance and opportunity to same-sex couples who choose marriage, in the same way that we acknowledge and celebrate the union of heterosexuals. These are little pillows for loving families who seek the same legal and social benefits that others enjoy.
At this election time, we have a perfect opportunity to reach out with our vote to provide little pillows to the vulnerable members of our community. We can offer the willingness to pay an extra 2 cents for a can of soda in order to help support education, health care, and elder services.
We can vote to support healthy and energy-efficient schools, and to pay our fair share to help ease the lives of those who need assistance to meet the challenges of day-to-day living.
We can choose to support each other in small and big ways, cushioning for one another the harshness of daily life, instead of acting like it’s every man for himself.
Alice M. Curtis, a member of the Olympian Board of Contributors, is a school social worker and social justice advocate. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.