Monday, May 23, 2011

Kind acts, evil doers, and everything in between

Lately, I’ve been noticing a lot of random acts of kindness.

It started Friday when I was grocery shopping and a gentleman approached me.

“Can I pay you a compliment without offending you?” he asked.

“Absolutely,” I replied, intrigued by the idea of compliment capable of offending me.

“If you have an old man who doesn’t tell you every single day how fine you look, get yourself a new old man.”

OK, so it wasn’t one of those acts of kindness like carrying my groceries to the car or helping a kid cross the street, but it still made my day.

From there, I dashed off to pick up a new pair of prescription sunglasses. The very next day, I dropped them facedown in the gravel. I almost cried when I saw the scratches on the lenses, and I drove back to Binyon Optical with a heavy heart.

“Is there anything I can buy to fill in the scratches so I don’t spend the whole summer thinking my glasses are covered with bugs?”

The customer service rep took a look at them and shrugged. “We’ll go ahead and make you new lenses, no charge.”


“Sure. You’re a loyal customer, and you just bought them yesterday.”

A cynical friend suggested my recent lack of a wedding ring – coupled with the fact that both kind deed doers were male – was to blame for both acts of kindness. Call me naïve, but I don’t think that’s it.

I was at the dog park yesterday when I spotted a sign on the bulletin board. A dog owner had typed up a statement about her canine’s bad behavior, offering an apology to a couple whose dogs her pet had apparently harassed and noting that she’s working with a professional trainer to correct the behavior.

The other dog owners must have seen it, because scrawled at the bottom was an acceptance of the apology and a note wishing them good luck with the training.

None of them had to leave those notes. They could have just gone their separate ways grumbled privately about the humping or lack of humping or whatever the canine crime was committed.
But the fact that both parties went out of their way to make things right with the other warmed my heart and reminded me that deep down, people are generally pretty kind.

I think that’s why I get annoyed when I read books with one-dimensional villains who are evil without a trace of attempted decency. Unless you live in a cartoon, bad guys aren’t generally jerks just for the sport of it. Even misguided sadists tend to believe deep down that they’re doing something good for someone.

It’s something I’m keeping in mind as I work through edits in my third contracted book. I can’t tell you much without giving away some surprise story elements, but suffice it to say, it's critical to make sure all people doing bad things have enough kindness in their characters to allow readers to relate to them.

Even if they do deserve to be punched in the nose.

What’s the last random act of kindness you performed or had performed for you? Do you share my frustration with one-dimensional bad guys? Please share.

And while we’re at it, please join me in pledging to commit at least one random act of kindness this week. Go ahead and hit on someone in the grocery store. Tell them I put you up to it.


Anonymous said...

Now that doggie sign is pretty special, you don't see things like that every day!

Today, I think I'll just be happy if my Tesco delivery arrives on time and they haven't missed anything out. Perhaps not a random act of kindness, but it'll certainly make me happy!!

Good luck with that book edit.

CJ xx

Dr. Cheryl Carvajal said...

I have to tell you a story to go with yours. One day I was parking at my college, and every spot is metered (with a five-hour limit). It was pouring rain, and I noticed the car in front of me had its headlights on. Even though it was raining, I left a note telling the owner I had jumper cables and was parked directly behind him, so I could give his car a jump if the battery was dead when he returned.

I got out of class VERY late, and I knew the meter on my car had run out. The owner had never called me, but at that point I was more worried about my meter, not wanting to pay an automatic $10 fine (again). I saw a slip on my windshield, too, and the meter reader had just passed my car. Darn!

Instead of a ticket, though, there was a note, from Tony. He thanked me for the offer of jumper cables, but had called AAA, and when he left, he saw my meter was low and put in a couple more quarters.

People are kind, I think, in general. All too often it is our sour side we show others, but what a joy when we share the good stuff!

Danielle Spears said...

Thank you for this post this morning! My life has just been the opposite and I was thinking the other day how everything seems to be going wrong. I'm with Shakespeare on the fact that we often show our sour sides to people. I have to admit, I have been that person lately. I have been kind of a bitch for no reason. I think it's because I've been dieting. I will try to be nicer today, promise!

Sarah W said...

Shakespeare, that's a great story.

I have one of my own:

I have a regular Wednesday patron at the library. She's interested in a range of historical figures, and I've set aside books that I think she might like. She can't check them out because she doesn't have a fixed address, so she reads them at a table near the staff desk and comes up occasionally to ask questions about what she's reading. Her speech isn't very clear, but we're patient with each other.

She doesn't have much, just a suitcase, sometimes, but she gives me things -- a new Bic pen, because I'd mentioned that I could never find one, a little notepad from a bar because I like to write stuff down so I don't forget it, and last week, a little guardian angel pin that someone had given her.

She always makes my day.

Linda G. said...

That was an incredibly classy letter from the dog owner, and an equally classy response. Restores one's faith in humanity. :)

Anonymous said...

Just what I needed to read this morning!
Thank you!

Patty Blount said...

My office has glass doors everywhere. They're big and quite heavy and I struggle with them on a daily basis. It's a pet peeve of mine when people who know someone's walking behind them let the door close on me.

Recently, as I was heading to the exit, I approached one of these heavy glass doors and a random guy hurried over to hold it open for me and then went BACK the way he came. That really impressed me. He wasn't even going in my direction.

I now do that for others.

Kimberly Sabatini said...

Perfect way to start a Monday! :o)

Matthew MacNish said...

There are villains in Romantic Comedies?

Michelle Wolfson said...

I loved Shakespeare's story, but what really made me laugh was getting to the last comment, which for me was Matthew's.

Trisha Leigh said...

Love, love the dog park sign, Tawna. It kind of put a lump in my throat but then again, it is about that time of the month ;)

Terry said...

I will! I used to try and do one good deed a day. Nothing bit, just a compliment, or letting someone go first, or bringing in a cart. Now that I work from home...I need to find a new way to pass on a little kindness. Thanks for the challenge!!!

Steph Schmidt said...

That dog owner is a real class act. Bravo to them for not only leaving the note but also taking the effort to correct the problem.

The last act of kindness I received was getting hit on by the grocery clerk when I was wearing sweats and no makeup. The attention made my week because he was a freshman and rather hunky if naive.

Unknown said...

One of my villains wants to save the world. Uhm. Make that several of them. There's just something about saving the world that gets the world into a lot of trouble...

I only do good deeds so I don't feel guilty when I'm doing bad ones. You say that isn't the way to do it?

Bethany Elizabeth said...

I do dislike one dimensional characters, although sometimes I do love a bad guy who's just... bad. And pulls it off. I think a too common error in making the villain relatable is making him too likable, or worse, weak. I dislike weak villains worse than one dimensional ones.
That's an opinion though. :)
Also, added to my to-do list: Random acts of kindness. :)

Patrick Alan said...

Is it ok if I give you a compliment that is both creepy and offensive and backhanded? Yes, both of those three things!


I really wish I wasn't such a one dimensional blog commenter.

Sara {Rhapsody and Chaos} said...

Aw, omg. That note about the dog's behavior is AWESOME! So is your optometrist.

I always hold doors and help elderly unload their grocery carts and try to do little things like that because 1) I think it's the right thing to do, 2) it doesn't take long and it could make a big difference in someone's day (look, you even blogged about the nice things people said to/did for you) and 3) the few times I've been too busy--I've felt horrible for a LONG time for passing up an opportunity to help another person out.

Also, yes times a million to making villians multi-dimensional. In the first novel I wrote (never to see the light of day) I had bad guys who were bad for the sake of being bad. It still makes me cringe.

I pledge with you to commit at least one random act of kindness this week :)

Geoffrey Cubbage said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Geoffrey Cubbage said...

I think I've got about forty more years to go before I can start praising random women's beauty at the grocery store, but I'll try to find something else nice to say.

As far as the lack of a wedding ring goes, I can assure you with confidence that most men trying to impress an attractive woman out of base and carnal motives will neither notice nor give a good goddamn whether there's a ring or not. Their (our?) attention is elsewhere.

Jan Markley said...

I'm a fan of complex characters and 'bad guys' that we feel a tad bit of sympathy for. My latest good deed - finding a new home for my friend's dog when she couldn't keep him anymore.

Allie Sanders said...

I'm constantly amazed with people and their capacity of kindness. Most of the time we focus on the bad but there really are a lot of nice people out there. A guy buying a kid a soda because he was a dollar short, holding open a door for someone who could have opened it themselves, spending a few minutes on your knees (no pervy comments please!) talking to a kid who's agitated while the mom is digging through her purse or dealing with another kid. It doesn't take much and sometimes that little kindness can brighten up someone's day without you even thinking about it. I take your challenge. I will *not* hit on someone in a grocery store. I live in a tiny town and if I randomly hit on someone everyone will know and that is a very shudder-worthy thought.

Liz said...

It's so weird you posted this topic the same day a friend shared this story on Twitter:

Must be a sign! I always try to compliment people about their clothes or their work or their hair or whatever. I often think to myself those compliments, but I don't always say them for some reason. But I know how much it means to me when someone compliments me.

As for villains, my pet peeve is stupid bad guys. You want your hero to be witty and successful, but that doesn't mean your bad guy should be a moron. What challenge is there in defeating an easily defeated bad guy?!