Rachel Hunt: Tiny Kindnesses make a world of difference

On the one-year anniversary of my brother’s burial, living across the globe from my family, I started an Instagram gathering tiny stories of tiny, significant kindnesses (https://www.instagram.com/tinykindnesses).

I needed to look for them. I needed to remember they were there.

I’d wanted to do the project since my 10-year-old nibling made me tea with lemon and honey when I was sick years before. The trick was, they had never made tea and cut the packet open and dumped the leaves straight in. Their sweet, small effort meant so much.

Since my start, I’ve shared 3,000 small stories, to a non-small audience of 17,000. Each kindness could feel small to the person giving it, but not at all small to the person receiving it. Instead, they remember forever. It’s kindness that takes place after infertility, miscarriages, births, divorce, death; on doorsteps, subways, planes, and at grocery stores; between strangers, neighbors, friends, and family members. It traces the place of kindness, reminding us that the place of kindness is everywhere, all the time.

The first I’ll share is from Boston: “This is not so tiny, really. The year after my divorce, my 8-year-old son remembered that his dad used to get a birthday cake for me. So, the day before my birthday, he called his best friend’s mom, and asked her to get a cake. When she delivered it, he gave her $1.47 in change, which was all the money he had in the world.”

The next kindness took place in Tokyo: “When my baby was 6-months-old, we had an appointment in Tokyo. She was strapped to my chest and we were late and lost and getting drenched in rain. While crossing the street, the rain suddenly stopped… [A]n elderly Japanese man, with a hunched-over-back was holding out his umbrella over me and my girl. He walked us all the way to our train station while his suit got soaked. I will never, ever forget the feeling of being seen and loved in that way.”

The next story is from our collective backyard: My sweet 6-year-old son picked me a dandelion for my hair over the weekend. I started to get emotional as I had the thought that one day he might not pick dandelions for me anymore. My 16-year-old daughter asked me what was wrong. When I told her, she went off by herself. After several minutes, she presented me with a beautiful crown of dandelions and told me she’d pick me flowers for the rest of my life. What makes this even more special is that we adopted her out of foster care when she was 15. I missed so much of her childhood, including getting to pick flowers with her growing up. That weekend though, we built a sweet memory.

This next story comes from my literal front yard, submitted by my daughter: “When I was doing a lemonade stand with my friends, an old lady pulled up and gave us a $20 bill, but didn’t even take any lemonade, which we were which we were only selling for 50¢…She said her mom told her that if she sees a lemonade stand she should never pass it.”

In sharing thousands of Tiny Kindnesses like these, I’ve learned big lessons:

  1. Kindness is not random, even when acts occur between strangers. Real kindness is intentional — it’s seeing the other person and their need.
  2. Reading other people’s stories of kindness helps us remember our own. It’s like the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon — once you have reason to notice something, you see it everywhere.
  3. Reading what mattered to people during their big life moments gives us clues on how to be helpful in similar circumstances.
  4. While Tiny Kindnesses can’t change hard things that happen like death or divorce, they can change the way individuals experience them.
  5. Bad news is real, but so is good news. It deserves amplification.

Follow along, see what lessons you can learn from Tiny Kindness, and consider submitting your own story.

Rachel Hunt lives in Columbus with her family and won
the most recent Ignite Columbus in both the Enlightening and
Fan Favorite categories with her “Tiny Kindnesses”
presentation. Send comments to
[email protected].