Be nice; it’s good for you

By M.V. Moorhead

The Golden Rule, non-cynical division, holds that we ought to do unto others as we would have others do unto us. (The cynical version, of course, is that whoever has the gold makes the rules).

Caroline Myss, veteran author of many books on holistic health, healing, charkas, personal energy and the like, is now turning her attention to the subject of doing unto others.

In her latest book, Invisible Acts of Power: Personal Choices That Create Miracles, she forwards the notion that doing kindly unto others is good for you.

Invisible Acts of Power, which Myss discussed last week at Changing Hands Bookstore—and which is available there—explores the impact that "nonrandom acts of kindness" can have on us.

Making a point of being helpful and generous to those around us, even in seemingly small ways, unleashes a positive energy flow that is, in her words, "the high-voltage current of grace."

Here are some reflections on her book, from an interview with Myss:

WN: Tell me something about the inspiration for this book.

CM: I actually had two real-life experiences that inspired me to write this book. They were basically struggles with real, physical baggage that gave me an "aha" moment where I saw how we can help ourselves and each other deal with our emotional, much heavier baggage. One evening last summer, I was watching a scruffy-looking 17-year-old who had multiple piercings in his ears and nose and multiple tattoos sitting and waiting at a bus stop, and I started making up some pretty negative opinions about him.

Then I noticed an older woman who was struggling to cross the street with some big boxes that were really weighing her down. This young man noticed her, too, and hurried over to help her. He took and carried the boxes and he loaded them into her car for her. She thanked him and then just gave him a big, huge hug. He was so visibly lifted by her appreciation that he looked physically taller as he walked back to the bus stop, and she was so obviously grateful that it made me think about how big a difference even the smallest acts make. It was so touching.

 A couple days before that, someone had helped me deal with my own heavy suitcase on an airplane by loading it into the overhead bin for me without my even having to ask. I get very anxious about dealing with my carryons because my back and neck get strained very easily. But I couldn't risk checking my bag and having it get lost between connections to my workshop, so I'd had to bring it with me.

This man who helped me almost out of a reflex had no idea the great anxiety and potential pain he had prevented. I was so grateful.

WN: In preparing this book, you collected many stories of small kindnesses and the impact they had. Do you have a favorite, or a couple of favorites?

CM: Seriously, I love them all. Every single one is so precious to me. I wish I could've put every single story that I received in this book. They are wonderful and they show the great connection we have to each other.

WN: Many of your other books concern holistic health. Is there a measurable physiological benefit to acts of kindness and generosity?

CM: Absolutely. Scientists have done numerous experiments that show that people who do acts of service, generosity and kindness have stronger immune systems and are healthier and happier. And the stories in my book show the tangible strength and power that we get from others. Some people turned complete strangers' lives totally around so that they are today happier, stronger, more successful.

WN: What's a good way for people to start this practice?

CM: You can start right where you are, right now, today with someone sitting next to you on the bus or train, with a smile, a kind word of encouragement, a compliment. I got stories in which the writer reported that a smile from a complete stranger actually kept the writer from terrible thoughts of despair and even suicide. Listen without interrupting—that is a great act of generosity, the gift of your attention and time. Also, give up the need to know the consequences of your kindness—there is no such thing as a small or insignificant act of service. It goes on forever.