Expressions of Altruism

Expressions of Altruism

With a new calendar stretching before us—its entries as pristine as drifts of new-fallen snow—readers share their hopes for filling the days to come with acts of thoughtfulness. Their ideas for demonstrating courtesy, showing empathy, and fostering connection encourage us to make this a year characterized by compassion and graciousness.

I started piano lessons at age fifty-eight with a book written especially for adults over fifty and have loved learning the instrument again (I hadn’t played since elementary school). Now, I enjoy entertaining at nursing homes a few times per week. It’s great practice, and, most importantly, I get to see the faces of older adults light up when they hear songs they know and love. Sometimes, the more mobile ones get up and dance, and even the wheelchair-bound sway with their upper bodies. I have made an effort to learn many of their names, and it feels great to connect with these wise and wonderful seniors who are teaching me how to age gracefully.

Anchorage, Alaska

I have recently discovered a unique way of connecting with others through the rock projects happening in communities across the US. Someone paints a rock and adds a message, if they wish, along with instructions to post the find on social media before deciding to re-hide or keep the stone. The rock is placed in plain sight at a public venue—usually a park—and waits there to brighten someone’s day!

I am a member of two local groups, Fairmont MN Rocks and Winona County Rocks, and have read many beautiful messages about how much this project has meant to people. Children are elated to find these precious little harbingers of happiness and to share them with others, generating further goodwill. Special-needs groups have found joy creating as well as interacting in this way with their communities. College students also love it, so many rocks are hidden on campuses.

But perhaps the most moving testimony I have seen so far is the one shared by a young woman who received a cancer diagnosis and was struggling with the decision of whether or not to go forward with treatment. Finding a rock helped her resolve to continue fighting. She was ill for quite a while but, when finally able to get back outdoors, found another rock and shared that it “sure changed my mood and gave me faith to keep pushing,” adding, “Thank you, Rock Fairy!”

Art, whether created or observed, is said to release endorphins, the feel-good hormones. And while the actual act of painting is considered a right-brain activity, these rock projects certainly do encompass the whole heart.

La Crescent, Minnesota

John Lennon wrote that “all you need is love,” and it seems that is exactly what the world needs at this moment in time: love to heal and love to create a bond between neighbors, friends, and acquaintances. On my path in the New Year, I commit my energies to being more understanding, more complimentary, and more loving in all the ways I conduct myself. A smile, a kind word—anything to connect on a human level. By letting others know they are not invisible, acknowledging them, and offering a greeting, I share myself and a bond is made—a connection to bring the world together one smile at a time, one moment at a time.

Colorado Springs, Colorado

I take great comfort in spreading kindness wherever I go and even if I just talk to someone on the phone. I always smile, ask questions about people, genuinely want to know how their day is going, and, when appropriate, will offer a hug. In talking to workers, I offer compliments, give unexpected tips, and thank them for doing their job so well. Some days I don’t get any response or a smile back, and that is okay, as my pure intention is simply to spread love and plant seeds in people’s hearts because I truly believe we never know how they struggle and what they are going through at the very moment we are crossing paths. I must say, though, that most of the time, no matter the person’s initial demeanor at the outset of the interaction, he or she does truly soften and warm up when met with kindness and love. Why else are we here?

Mount Pleasant, South Carolina

In September 2005, I was diagnosed with a rare form of eye cancer, choroidal melanoma. Through radiation plaque therapy, my vision and life were saved. With most illnesses, you know someone who has had the same type, but with a rare disease, you often don’t.

I started posting a public-service announcement each year on my Instagram account reminding people to have their eyes dilated by an optometrist. I used hashtags so that anyone searching for that particular cancer would see my post. Over the past six years, many people have messaged me from all over the world. Usually, they have been diagnosed a day or two earlier. I can encourage them and talk about the process and what to expect after surgery.

It’s scary to be diagnosed with cancer and especially a rare variety in your head. I keep in touch with fellow survivors, and we know we are here for each other. It’s a small club, but we are all card-carrying members.

Williamsburg, Virginia

Until this past April, my mother was a resident at our local nursing home. I played the piano for her and the others, and I took my dogs in for visits. A month ago, I returned as a volunteer. Some residents have family to visit; many don’t. All of them need someone to sit with them, even if it is for just a moment.

This isn’t just for them. It has given me a way to stay connected to my mom. Spending time with the people she lived with for her last three years helps with the healing. Not seeing her there is heartbreaking. But it has helped my loss to know that I am bringing joy into the lives of the other residents. I know 2020 will bring them, and me, more of the same.

Ephrata, Washington

Discover more ideas for expressions of altruism in Reader-to-Reader in the January/February 2020 issue, available on newsstands and at



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