Perhaps it is best to put one’s attention on cultivating and performing small acts of kindness, because there are many more opportunities for small acts than big ones. To cultivate the ability to automatically perform kind acts, it is necessary for them to be habitual and so it requires doing the kind acts under repeated similar situations to make them become habitual. Big acts of kindness are rare and it would be very time-consuming to wait for these opportunities to be kind. Also, big events are probably psychologically overwhelming to our conscious behavior and we will react with our preexisting standard repertoire of actions and be unable to control our selves well enough to do a kind act. If we have practiced performing kind acts under minimal stress and distraction and then been able to perform them under greater, but endurable, duress then we can hope to be able to react with kindness under marginally greater stresses. We should avoid engaging in situations which will be too much for us to cope with successfully most of the time, because it would tend to generate counterproductive habits. We want to be challenged, but also for our personal growth, we want to be successful enough most of the time so our habits are reenforced into the patterns that are what we believe to be ideal.
The original question thus becomes reversed. How big can a kindness be and still be effective? That can now be answered. It is the biggest kindness that one is capable of doing under stressful conditions, where the mind is still free enough to perceive the needs of the other person who needs the kindness. As one’s personal stress increases it becomes increasingly difficult to consider the needs of another person and thus it becomes increasingly difficult to do a kind act for them. If, however, one has practiced doing many smaller kind deeds, there will be some residual habit aimed at doing the right things for the other person, when it is more challenging to do so.
As we become proficient at doing small acts of kindness, we develop the ability to do larger acts and to do acts under more challenging conditions. Thus we should aim to start small and do as many of these small kind acts as possible so we can cultivate our ability to do larger kind acts. To do kind acts is a skill like other skills and it can be learned, practiced and improved, and as we develop greater skill we can take on even greater challenges. The more successful we are at doing kind acts, the more contented the whole world becomes and the more contented with the world we become.
“We know only too well that what we are doing is nothing more than a drop in the ocean. But if the drop were not there, the ocean would be missing something.”
― Mother Teresa