A massive, unexpected wave of goodwill began online with a simple idea: "Imagine if we all committed 20 acts of kindness to honor the lost children of Newtown." NBC News National and International Correspondent Ann Curry sent the message on Twitter and Facebook. The idea has evolved into a viral effort known as "26 Acts of Kindness," in honor of the students and faculty who died at Sandy Hook Elementary.
After being in Newtown, I woke up the next morning and thought about what could be done. What is the answer to this kind of national suffering? And I remembered a moment on the edge of Darfur, when I came upon a woman who was elderly and in the hospital, recovering from burns after an attack by Janjaweed militias. She was surrounded in the hospital, by younger women carrying babies, and I asked her to tell the story of how she had suffered these terrible burns all over her body. I learned that she had tried to rescue her invalid husband when her village was attacked and her house was set on fire. She tried to carry her husband out of her house and stayed so long that the thatched roof of her house came down, the hot embers giving her 3rd degree burns. But she was unable to save her husband. Her husband died.
Ann Curry's inspiration for #26Acts of Kindness dates back to an experience she had while reporting on the genocide in Darfur in 2007, and the joy that giving Polaroid pictures of children brought to mothers who had never held a photograph of their kids.
I remember walking out of that hospital, and the producer saw the look on my face. He said, “Are you okay?” And I said, “No.” And without even thinking, I remember going to our team van and pulling out a Polaroid camera I had brought on that trip. And then I went to all of these women with their children who were in the courtyard of the hospital, knowing that they had never owned a photograph – ever – of their child. I went around from woman to woman, and I took pictures of them, I took pictures of them with their child, or just of their child alone – without even thinking, just snapping pictures. The first time I did it, I remember giving a photograph to a woman, and she looked at this black square with this quizzed look on her face, and I said, “Just wait one minute! Just wait one minute,” holding up one finger. And then I watched her face melt as she watched her child’s face slowly appear on that Polaroid.
It made me feel better. So I went from mother to mother to mother until I ran out of film.
After the experience in Newtown. I thought, “What if? Imagine if everyone could commit to doing one act of kindness for every one of those children killed in Newtown.” So that’s what I tweeted. And guess what? People committed. I said in my tweet, “I’m in. RT if you’re in.” Not only did they commit to 20 acts of kindness, they wanted to up it to 26 acts of kindness for every child and adult who was lost at the school. Some even debated maybe we should include the mother, who died, at 27 acts. Some debated maybe we should include the killer as well as he was struggling and in pain.
What’s really remarkable to me is how many people responded. They are the ones who carried the ball. They are the ones who chose what to do. People would tweet back, “I’ve done two!” “I bought coffee for a guy in line!” “I bought toys for homeless children!” “I’ve got 18 more to go!” or “24 more to go!” – whatever number they were trying to reach.
I was inspired by them. So I started tweeting about what people were doing. Some people thought it was boasting when they would say “I’ve done this” or “I’ve done that.” I don’t think so. I think that whenever you show by example an act of kindness – big or small – something that spends a lot of money, or because you don’t have the money, something that doesn’t, all of it is welcome.
There is no judgment. I think that’s the key. If people want to do it, great. But I think that if they do it, something great happens to you.
When I was tweeting, I noticed that the number one trending topic was something like "ThingsIlikeaboutmyself." I thought, “Well, if you do act of kindness, I bet you’ll like even more about yourself.” So that’s what I tweeted.
I know the truth: if you do good, you feel good. It’s the most selfish thing you can do. Right now, this country wants to heal. I think the only thing comforting in the face of a tragedy like this is to do something good with it if you can. Be a part of that wave.
Here are some ideas to get you started:
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