Almost invisible, everyday acts of compassion

“The world is never saved in grand messianic gestures, but in the simple accumulation of gentle soft almost invisible everyday acts of compassion.” says Chris Abani, a storyteller of interpersonal humanity. He recalls the S. African phrase of ubuntu: the only way to be human is to reflect your humanity back on me. “There is no way for us to be human without other people.” Hear him tell about others, including stories of his mother who once said, “anything a man can do, I can fix.” His mother never cried through the horrors of dealing with years of Nigerian oppression and destitution but wept openly when a stranger in Lisbon, hearing of her woes, offered her and her children the clothes and toys from her suitcase. His mother commented: “You can steel your heart against any kind of trouble or horror, but the simple act of kindness by a stranger will unstitch you.”

Chris Abani tells remarkable stories of everyday people on TED. A useful reminder of the what City Year refers to as “ripples” (from the RFK quote) or what I like to think of as a multiplier effect of goodwill.

Each time a man stands for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance. (Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.)

Within each of us, lies limitless seeds of goodwill, waiting to sprout into acts of giant beauty if we only release them and let nature grow them. And the laws of social capital suggest that what goes around will eventually come around.

Chris also reminds us of the power of stories to move us, call us to a higher place, create strong social norms and connect us with our ancestors. It was for this reason, that we employed a wonderful storyteller, Jon Spelman, to tell a lot of the sidebars of social capital in our bettertogether report in 2000.

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