Random kindness, senseless beauty

by Wolf Pascoe on December 26, 2011

Libraries will get you through times of no money better than money will get you through times of no libraries. — Anne Herbert

Whenever I make a donation, I’m always worried it isn’t enough. I think this stems from a screwed-up idea that giving should hurt.

This Christmas, AP reported that anonymous donors have been paying off the KMart layaway accounts of strangers. Mostly, the money goes for children’s toys and clothes set aside by parents who don’t have the cash to buy them outright.

It reminds me of the scene in Les Miserables where the kindly Bishop shelters the penniless Jean Valjean, who repays the priest by stealing his silverware.

When Gendarmes apprehend Valjean and bring him back to the house, the Bishop tells the police to release him because the silverware was a gift. Then he hands Jean Valjean a pair of silver candlesticks for good measure.

When the gendarmes leave, the priest whispers:

“‘Jean Valjean, my brother, you no longer belong to evil, but to good. It is your soul that I buy from you; I withdraw it from black thoughts and the spirit of perdition, and I give it to God.’

I can’t think about this scene without tearing up.




The story is that thirty years ago, Anne Herbert, an editor at Co-Evolution Quarterly, wrote the above on a place mat at a restaurant in Sausalito, California. Of course, people had been practicing such acts for a long time.

The stranger shall be as the home born among you, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. — Leviticus, 19:34

A few weeks ago, Aha Parenting ran a post called “Help Your Child Discover His Inner Angel.” The author, Laura Markham, included some tips concerning your kids. Among them: model generosity, thank you cards to the people who enrich their lives, don’t force.

She also wrote, “Every child deserves the pleasure of giving her own money to a worthy cause.”

Why had I never thought of this?

Dr. Markham suggested giving a little extra allowance each week, money to go in a special “giving” jar to be disbursed at the holidays. Great idea for next year.  What about now?


I sat down with Nora to make a Nick plan.

We decided to put $50 in a jar for Nick to give to the charity of his choice. We had a family meeting to go over his options. I was all set to give him the run down on where the money could go.

“Let’s give it to Fern Hill,” he said, before I could start.

“What for?” Nora said.

“For extra school supplies,” he said. “They need them.”

“Don’t you want to hear about all the other worthy causes?”

“No,” he said.

It’s a start. Next year, I think we’ll stipulate his gift should go somewhere new.




I’ve heard of a tradition in Sufism whereby one’s gifts change in nature as one matures as a human being. The Sufi’s speak of the stages of development as the nafs.

First there is no gift at all, at the lowest naf. Then there is the forced gift, given out of, say, guilt. Then the gift given with expectation of something in return. Then the gift freely given with no expectation of something in return. Then the gift given anonymously.

And so on.

The gift of the highest naf—I’ve always loved this—is the gift given in such a way that the recipient is unaware of the gift.

I’ve gotten as far as anonymous, but I’m not sure I’ve ever pulled off the last one.

What I like about this way of thinking is that it doesn’t say giving should hurt.

God bless us everyone.



This just in: bless us everyone



Richard Williams’ marvelous and Oscar-winning, 25-minute, animated version of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Below is Part 1. Here are Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.

IMAGE CREDIT: Ceramic Piggy Bank by Joe Lencioni of Shifting Pixel



Got an example of random kindness or senseless beauty? Just Add Father is listening. (Add your thoughts by clicking a few lines below below, where it says comments or add one. I always respond here.)


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{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

Kate December 26, 2011 at 3:27 pm

My proudest moment as a parent to my wee ones was when my oldest (then 4) heard about the earthquake in Haiti and immediately found her money (a few coins) and asked that we send them.
Every year, as a family, we donate. It’s not ever enough. This year, most will go to the food bank, but each girl got to pick something they love (one babies, one animals) and part of our planned giving goes to organizations that help in those areas.


Wolf Pascoe December 26, 2011 at 7:09 pm

Bravo for your family, Kate. Senselessly beautiful.


BigLittleWolf December 27, 2011 at 1:29 pm

I love this post, Wolf. Yes, ideally, we give our gifts anonymously, and teach our children to do so as well – and generously.

All best for a wonderful holiday season with your family.


wpl December 27, 2011 at 6:57 pm

Rightbackatcha, BLW.


Kelly December 27, 2011 at 8:41 pm

We do a giving jar here, though it’s more of a percentage pulled out via spreadsheet when I make the monthly allowance deposit in the kids’ accounts. They get to spend 20% and give 20% and the rest accrues. It’s the best college plan they’ll get out of me.

I really would love to find a way to give without the recipient realizing it. Anonymous is one of my favorites because it allows me enjoy the giving without having to accept any praise. The praise makes the giving feel selfish somehow.


Wolf Pascoe December 27, 2011 at 10:00 pm

I remember Woody Allen having a problem with all the attention he got for an Academy Award. An interviewer asked him, “What about a Nobel Prize? Would you accept that?”
He said, “Well, yes, but the Nobel’s different because it comes with a lot of cash.”


Privilege of Parenting December 28, 2011 at 12:47 am

I hadn’t ever thought of the Count of Monte Christo as an evolved gift-giving Sufi, but I do like the ring of that.

Last year I tried to get the family to forgo some of our giving of unneeded gifts in favor of giving animals to farmers who truly needed them but it didn’t really go over and I was on my own on that one. This year my sister-in-law donated some chickens and goats in my honor and it was a great present for me to know that it happened.

From nachas to naf-as, here’s to a compassionate and joyously generous New Year.


Wolf Pascoe December 28, 2011 at 1:21 am

Those were some gifts the Count of Monte Cristo gave! Ah, but they don’t write stories like they used to.


Sirena December 28, 2011 at 3:10 pm

A truly timely and generous post – I loved this one. I always feel like I have so much STUFF and there are so many in the world that have NO STUFF. I like to continually clean out my STUFF and give it to local Goodwill type organizations, but maybe that’s just my OCD kicking in. The trick is not to get MORE STUFF to replace it. I’m still pondering the highest Sufi level of giving and trying to figure out how to do that – I think I have some serious evolving to do…


Wolf Pascoe December 28, 2011 at 4:57 pm

There’s a book you’d like called The Material World: A Global Family Portrait, which has pictures of families from everywhere with all their STUFF. It would seriously evolve you.


Sirena December 28, 2011 at 3:13 pm

Oh yes, and I love the Les Mis quote – I’d never heard it having never read the book or seen the play or movie but now I know I have to read the book.


Wolf Pascoe December 28, 2011 at 5:02 pm

It’s one of the great scenes. It’s probably in the musical, but I don’t remember. There have been many movies. But the 1978 one with Anthony Perkins as Javert had a good version. There’s also an audio version of the book.


Barbara S. December 28, 2011 at 10:06 pm

Teaching our children to give to others, even when they have no money and have to give a portion of themselves, is one of the most important responsibilities we have as parents. It’s “the gift given in such a way that the recipient is unaware of the gift.” You’ve done it!


Wolf Pascoe December 28, 2011 at 11:20 pm

I love that. Does it mean I’m enlightened?


Gregoire December 29, 2011 at 10:42 pm

True story: A old friend of mine was looking for a space in a parking lot. She was driving around and around, not a single space, when finally she saw a car pulling out. She sped up to get to the space. Someone started honking at her, which pissed her off because she was sure she saw the space first, but also made her feel guilty because maybe the other guy was there first. After she pulled in, the driver of the car who had honked rolled down the window and shouted, “I love your bumper sticker!” The bumper sticker read, “Practice Random Kindness & Senseless Acts of Beauty.”

Happy new year, Wolfy. My love to Nora and Nick.


Wolf Pascoe December 29, 2011 at 11:50 pm

Ha! So much for bumper stickers.


Chopperpapa January 4, 2012 at 9:52 am

I’ve struggled lately not with giving but with giving for a goal, most particularly the idea that a certain amount, percentage, dollar total is required. This is especially so in specific faiths. I believe the moment giving is done with anything attached to an expectation it isn’t giving but becomes a payment.


Wolf Pascoe January 5, 2012 at 2:04 am

I believe the moment giving is done with anything attached to an expectation it isn’t giving but becomes a payment.
This makes me think long and long. It reminds me of the chicken and the salmon who met by the river and decided to travel upstream together. They came to an inn with a sign: Lox and Eggs for Breakfast
“Let’s go in,” said the chicken.
“Are you kidding?” said the salmon. “From you they only want a contribution. From me it’s a commitment.”


pamela January 5, 2012 at 6:58 pm

You’re so funny. Of course you have pulled off the highest naf – the very essence of being a father. xoxo


Wolf Pascoe January 5, 2012 at 9:51 pm

Being a dad is more like the salmon moment.


pamela January 5, 2012 at 10:03 pm

Like I said – the highest naf.


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