Kindness on Rodeo Drive
Five of us met at the corner of Santa Monica Blvd and Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills. It was April’s Fools Day and we were to play the fool that day, giving away stuff for free to folks who think that nothing is free.
We decided that as we approached people on the streets, we would in fact approach our own fears and judgments. The goal was to penetrate through that fear, and to view the shoppers as our own brothers and sisters, so that instead of things, we would actually give a little piece of ourselves to them. … and hopefully that little piece of love would have a journey of its own.
Every time we were asked why we were doing this, we decided that we would give the honest answer that was true in that moment:
Sometimes we gave because we wished to ripple compassion out in the world.
Sometimes we gave because we wanted to face our own insecurities.
Sometimes we gave because we have received so much.
Sometimes we gave because it made sense.
Sometimes we gave because it made no sense at all.
Sometimes we give because it is the only choice we have.
Here is what other had to share about their experience:
From Srikanth Sridharan:
On April 1st, 2005 I had the pleasure of participating in somewhat of a social experiment with a group of compassionate individuals who share a common interest in serving others. It was a Saturday morning and the sun was out shining brightly as it usually does in Southern California. Preparing the food baskets, the feeling amongst us was that spreading compassion on Rodeo Drive was probably more of a daunting task than doing the same in a low-income downtown neighborhood. What would people say? How would they react to our shouts of “free candy!” and “random acts of kindness today!” Well, at least for the shoppers of Rodeo Drive it didn’t seem to be something that they would normally expect – an April Fool’s joke perhaps?
As Sukh and I made our way through the posh Beverly Hills locale, the reaction to our compassion was mixed at best. Many were quite polite in refusing, stating that they were on a diet and already had their fill of sugar for the morning. Some foreign tourists were quite terrified to say the least! We even had two bouncer types clad in navy-blue pinstriped suits politely pull us aside and order us to vacate the premises immediately. Interestingly enough, the job seemed to get easier as we veered off Rodeo, almost as if a huge barrier of fear had been lifted. Well, we did encounter quite a few strangers who were absolutely delighted that something like this could be happening in their neighborhood. How can I forget the writer from NY, who out of curiosity stopped to chat with us and then openly shared his views on war, helping others, and changing the world!
At the end of it all, Sukh and I were both curious to see how the girls had fared in their exploits. A social experiment within a social experiment! To no one’s surprise, they fared much better than we did. Well, through all our adventures it was a unique experience and the key was accepting the fact that even if we hadn’t always succeeded, the seed of compassion was planted in so many shoppers’ minds that morning. Maybe, just maybe they will pay it forward sometime.
I had a blast. I started off by meeting 2 wonderful BTCers for the first time. I was excited to give things away than ask for things. Later I realized that I am asking for something: a moment of their time to take a snack. Almost every other person we came across gave us that moment to show our kindness. I totally understood the ones who didnâ€™t stop. Iâ€™ve been in their shoes many times.
Of course we had to use the word â€œfreeâ€ a lot before anyone stop. Some were very skeptical. Some felt very uncomfortable to taking things for free. I realized how much people are use to living in a world of exchange of tangible items. So, some tried to force money on us. Thatâ€™s when we pulled out the smile cards and said, â€œwe are spreading smiles, itâ€™s random acts of kindness dayâ€. Then I saw a little relief and a smile. Some asked, â€œCome oooonâ€¦Really! Why?â€ I said what rolled out of my tongue at the moment â€œwe are trying to show compassion, you think we can change the world with compassion?â€ It was amazing to hear and see the positive responses of people, a bow, invitations, donations (which we gracefully didn’t accept), stories of their experiences. The best thing was their genuine smile that came out so naturally. I think we pushed our limits by going up to security guards & cops.
Even though we crossed so many different people from all over the world, I didnâ€™t see them any different than my own family. Not everyoneâ€™s personalities/moods are the same, some moody, some happy, some cranky, some just weird :). But I saw humanity in every single person. The difference was that some take a moment to express that side and some don’t. Those who do are the ones that make everyone’s day even more beautiful.
From Kristeen Singh
I definitely didnâ€™t want to do the compassion cell on Rodeo Drive. I felt like we should give the cookies, candies, granola bars to those that really needed the foodâ€¦ Hmm, but then I began to realize that it was my fears and insecurities that were preventing me from giving on Rodeo Drive and I was looking for an excuse not to attend the compassion cell. But as I become open to showing generosity and to be giving without any expectation of anything in return, it was just amazing to see how inspired people were to be given to. It wasnâ€™t even about the food, but about the act of love. We were selling the concept of givingâ€¦why? Because giving is really receiving. The greatest gift I have ever received is the one I gave away.
From Reshma Gajjar
I showed up to Rodeo Drive not really sure what to expect. I only looked forward to the comfort i knew i would find in the friends who would be joining me. We decided from a conversation at a coffeeshop that one of the obvious problems in this world is the lack of compassion. So we met up on Rodeo drive to hand out treats and offer people random acts of kindness. Why Rodeo drive? Well its not always about helping those in need…and then those who are already involved in service already get this mentality. Its about reachng out to others as a brother or sister to bring people together and hopefully the compassion would be contagious or planting a seed that would spawn thought. The reactions i got were very positive, of course there were people who rightfully assumed we were part of a business, group or need for a donation and walked a little faster by us. But the people that took time to wait just a little longer found that we wanted nothing but a smile. Overall, most were pleasantly suprised, a handful excited for the free snacks and then there were the few that thought what we were doing was wonderful and such a good idea.
I’m honestly surprised that you guys got such positive responses! Yes, cynical me. I was thinking that it would be only a matter of time before the Beverly Hills PD came and told you to “move it along.” Places like Rodeo Drive are designed to keep the “undesireables” out. Fluffy areas are populated by people who, because of the size of their bank accounts and the kind of job they have, etc. may feel entitled to receiving such generosity so getting a smile and something free isn’t a big deal. But then I thought, well….fluffy people need some lovin too. To be so detached from genuine kindness is sad. The greater tragedy is that there exists this taboo that people from different classes and backgrounds can’t come together without there being a material exchange. Ironically, you did provide a service. If it is true that we are a product of our environment — say, if we’re around a bunch of angry people, we’re going to feel upset too — then, if we’re around a bunch of friendly/compassionate people, how can we not follow? I hope that after coming into contact with you, these people felt compelled to greet the sales clerks, waiters, valet, securitiy guards, etc. as they went on with their day. At least, after reading your entries, I feel like checking my own contempt and prejudices.