Chances are, at some point in your life you received encouragement from a stranger. It may have been a tiny gesture but it came at the right time.
~Maybe a note left in a library book serendipitously answered a question you’d been mulling over.
~Maybe a store clerk commented on how wonderfully inquisitive your child was just when you were despairing of her constant questions.
~Maybe something as simple as a stranger’s thoughtful compliment boosted your flagging spirits.
Such instances feel as if they’re meant to happen, stretching our perspective beyond the ordinary and helping us pause, contemplate, and renew the way we see our lives. Often they inspire us to spread the same feeling to others.
I’ve had plenty of those moments. That’s why when my kids were tiny we had a secret indulgence—guerrilla encouragement efforts. They’re similar to the widely known Random Acts of Kindness but we specifically focused on encouragement. Here’s what we did.
The easiest guerrilla encouragement efforts are letting people know the job they do is appreciated. Since my kids were too little to write at that time, instead they dictated gratitude notes, like the one my oldest insisted I send (in his name) to a particular nurse’s aide he saw each week during nursing home visits. My kids also gave homemade cookies to firefighters and freshly picked strawberries to librarians. A few times we were driving through a slow intersection at just the right pace for us to roll down the car window and give a cold bottle of water to a traffic cop.
Handing over such offerings requires little more than simply saying, “thanks for what you do.” The look on our recipients’ faces filled us with expansiveness, as if the air suddenly became lighter. My kids liked to talk about these moments again and again.
Their favorite guerrilla encouragement effort giveaway happened only once and involved grocery store popsicles, a treat normally illicit in our annoyingly make-it-from-scratch household. I let my little ones stand out front with a box of these popsicles. They could barely stand the excitement as the garbage truck rumbled closer and closer. Patiently they waited until the workers finished upending our garbage cans, then they held out the popsicles shouting “thank you” over the roar of the truck’s grinder. The guys were more thrilled than any of us anticipated, waving all the way down the street as they hung on the truck with purple, orange and red popsicles in their mouths.
What kept us talking and thinking much longer were guerrilla encouragement efforts for people we would never meet. One time we decorated little tins with tiny stickers and the words “treasure for you.” We rolled up fortunes we’d made inside, then filled them with with nickels, dimes and quarters. We put them in the diaper bag planning to tuck them out-of-the-way spots for strangers to find. I thought it would take us weeks to locate perfect drop off places but the kids made a quest out of hiding every one the first time we went out. Our tins ended up at the library, health food store, and park.
For weeks afterward my kids speculated about who might have found these little treasures and they told each other stories about the outcomes they envisioned. My daughter announced one could have been found by a lady who needed exactly that amount to buy a kitten (my daughter named the kitten and recounted its adventures as she imagined the scenario). My son decided it one could have been found by a boy who needed to buy a compass to draw maps (and then my son promptly drew a whole series of maps). Although they asked to do this project over and over again, we only did it that once. Secretly I was concerned that the tins would be tossed as junk before anyone ever opened them. I also had come to rely on household change for necessities, so that moment of largesse was a one time sacrifice.
Another guerrilla encouragement effort that really captured our imaginations? Talking stones. We were walking along Lake Erie and spied quite a few flat water-washed stones. Perfect surface for an encouraging note. The kids ran around the beach collecting the largest stones. They carefully washed the sand off at the water’s edge and set them out on our beach towel to dry in the sun. I used a permanent marker (although a finer point marker would have let me squeeze more words on each stone). Our plan was to write something encouraging on one side, then leave the stones scattered well above the high tide line. We came up with messages like “you rock” and “everything is just fine” and “be tender.” Schmucky, but it’s hard to think with preschoolers clamoring to redistribute stones in a gleeful reverse scavenger hunt. The kids liked the idea of leaving them for strangers to find and chortled over the idea of stones “talking.” We left that day happily speculating about who might find a stone and what it might mean to them. Quite possibly nothing. Or who knows, one of our stones might have spoken to just the right person.
With all that’s going on in the world, guerilla encouragement efforts seem strange, funny, and innocently optimistic. But after all, the acronym for “guerrilla encouragement effort” is GEE. I believe each child is born to dance on this beautiful planet that’s turning toward greater hope. Gee, why not?
As far as we can discern, the sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light in the darkness of mere being. Carl G. Jung