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Originally published Sunday, December 2, 2012 at 8:02 PM

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Acts of kindness aren't so random

You're good, so let it show, says Seattle Times columnist Jerry Large.

Seattle Times staff columnist

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Thanks Jerry. I don't want what I have done as a gift of kindness or will do to get any... MORE
There are opportunities to be kind to strangers everyday. I imagine most people do so ... MORE
Of all the giving I do I prefer to have it where I remain anonymous. In my view this... MORE

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In New York City and in Black Diamond, there are people who do good deeds.

My bet is that there are a lot more of them than of people who do intentional harm.

Maybe I'm wrong, but I believe that if most of us were doing bad things most of the time our species wouldn't still be here.

We are especially fortunate that there are so many people whose actions don't just balance out over time, but are weighted to the side of good.

That policeman in New York City got everyone's attention because he bought a pair of boots for a homeless man who was suffering from the cold.

Bad stuff tends to stick out, for some very good reasons; it often poses a danger, and it might require attention and action. But this story stood out, because it broke with expectations in some interesting ways. The kindness happened in New York City, and even though uncountable acts of kindness happen there everyday, that's not how most people think of the city.

The guy being helped was homeless. Yes, you might expect someone to give the man a sandwich, or a quarter, but a costly pair of shoes? One New Yorker said in a story I read, that most folks he knows are used to walking past homeless people without registering their presence.

And the act was newsy because in this instance the person doing good is a New York City policeman. I don't think I need to elaborate why that would seem remarkable. But he certainly isn't the only kind person in uniform. Helping people is part of the job, but his way maybe isn't so much a part of our experience that it would make his gesture seem ordinary.

Closer to home, in Black Diamond, Ginger "Mama" Passarelli has a high regard for the selfless work that people in uniform do on behalf of strangers. And she is someone who has made acts of kindness part of her routine.

My colleague Christine Clarridge wrote about Passarelli and her group, The Soup Ladies, a couple of weeks ago. The Soup Ladies go to places where first responders are dealing with an emergency and they set up a feeding station.

"We might not be able to stop disasters or tragedies," Passarelli said in that story. "But we can feed people, and that is so basic and so necessary and so important, I do feel like we are making a difference, one meal at a time."

The story about her ran on Thanksgiving, which is the start of the season when we focus on altruism.

You know, it's three months of embracing our better nature, gratitude in November, generosity in December and fixing our flaws in January.

By February, the sugar high has worn off. Nah, not for people who take the annual reminders to heart, actually, not for most people.

We do benefit from the reminders, but altruism is already built in — social animals, like humans, can't survive without it. It may be magnified in winter, but it's there year-round.

And it goes beyond the special deeds of extraordinary people.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 64 million Americans volunteered for organizations last year, 30 percent of women and almost 24 percent of men.

That's just formal volunteering. We couldn't get along without even more people casually helping other people as the need arises.

And families, businesses, schools and communities need thousands of small but significant acts of kindness to thrive. A smile that travels from one person to another, rippling through a day. A kind word.

Actions that are of immediate benefit to the giver and the receiver, and also more important to the functioning of a society than most of us fully appreciate.

Have you contributed today?

Jerry Large's column appears Monday and Thursday. Reach him at 206-464-3346 or jlarge@seattletimes.com.

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About Jerry Large

I try to write about the intersections of everyday life and big issues. I like to invite readers to think a little differently. The topics I choose represent the things in which I take an interest, and I try to deal with them the way most folks would, sometimes seriously, sometimes with a sense of humor. My column runs Mondays and Thursdays.
jlarge@seattletimes.com | 206-464-3346

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