Tik-Tok and the poet

I’m sure Australian Harrison Pawluck initially meant well.

After all, many have been calling for ‘random acts of kindness’ in our harsh and cruel world. So he bought some flowers which he was planning to hand to some unsuspecting old lady in his local shopping mall. But then the thought crept in that he himself ought to get a little credit for what he was planning.

As a result, he ended up filming himself handing the flowers to a middle-aged lady in a mall, and then walking away. The resultant snippet of film was posted on Tik-Tok, and subsequently went viral. And when that

happened, the lady in the mall was not best pleased. She felt she had been patronised, and said, ‘These artificial things are not random acts of kindness, really’.

Rev David Clarke

Poor Harrison failed to meet the criteria for generosity set by the English essayist Charles Lamb, who said: ‘The greatest pleasure I know is to do a good action by stealth, and to have it found out by accident’. He certainly wouldn’t meet the criteria set by Jesus, who says that such kindness doesn’t need to be found out at all!

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In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, ‘Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men to be seen by them’ (Matthew 6;1).Jesus encountered plenty of people who did good and worthy things, but who also liked to be praised for them. The Pharisees made sure that they had trumpeters nearby when they were giving to the needy, so that others would hear, observe and applaud. Besides, when they prayed they often stood at street-corners where others could see and hear them.

On the contrary, Jesus said that when we pray we should ‘go into your room, close the door, and pray to your Father, who is unseen’ (6;6), and when giving to the needy ‘ do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing’(6; 3). The right hand is the giving hand, and the left hand must not even be watching what we do. As John Stott wrote, ‘Not only are we not to tell other people about our Christian giving; there is a sense in which we are not even to tell ourselves’.

One man who seemed to grasp the message of Jesus in this regard was the poet T.S. Eliot. He underwrote a loss of £1,500 on a play by Ronald Duncan, but only on condition that Duncan was not told. And when Wyndham Lewis completed his portrait of him, he quietly paid Lewis an extra £50, making it clear that letters revealing his generosity should not be published. A year later, he gave Lewis £200 to enable him to travel to Sweden for X-ray treatment for his deteriorating eyesight. That’s how a ‘random act of kindness’ ought to operate.