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Feb. 12-18, 2017

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Epicenter of Good Deeds

Now, at least, L.A. is the epicenter of good deeds

by Paul Dean
L.A. Times Staff Writer

 

We were begged to make love, not war. That made a lot of babies but didn't do much to keep us out of Somalia.

 

Then we were offered a kinder, gentler nation, brightened by a thousand points of light. It went dark after one term.

 

Now we're into random acts of senseless kindness.

 

It is the blissful, altruistic, current message of four books, several thousand T-shirts, bumper stickers on Kern county sheriff's vehicles and a rediscovered Gospel according to neighborhood pulpits.

 

What stirred a year ago as an essay assignment at a community college is bringing a mountain of mail from Europe and Asia, adoption by "The Crusaders" television news magazine and a rising domestic challenge: If disease can be eased by a Great American Smokeout, why not try dimming violence with a World Kindness Day?

 

In Los Angeles, the violence was Jan. 17. v And the goodness and benefaction that broke out certainly has tempered the trauma.

 

Vons and Hughes markets gave away food and an elderly woman continues to hunt the west Valley's runaway dogs with cans of Alpo. An attorney carried 200 Big Macs to Balboa Park and a convoy came to out tent cities from St. Mary's Food Bank in Phoenix. A California National Guardsman played his harmonica for a cluster of cold children, and a woman from El Salvador cried in the night. In her country, she says, soldiers aren't friends of the people.

 

For a glowing moment, Los Angeles was the epicenter of Good Samaritanism.

 

And Chuck Wall is delighted.

 

He's a Bakersfield College human relations instructor and the accidental guru of it all. Last year, Wall, 53, was thoroughly dismayed by a persistent, banal cliché of radio news: "We have another random act of senseless violence to report."

 

He mentally edited the phrase, substituted kindness for violence.

 

Suddenly, Wall says, he had "a great phrase that turned a negative into a positive." Which he turned into an assignment, challenging his class to perform, then write about, their own acts of senseless kindness.

 

In almost immediate concert, a world of nervous youngsters, angry parents, jaded cops, worried clergy and frustrated politicians began clutching at Wall's alternative to human disregard and rudeness - this tiny opportunity to tug America from its bad mood.

 

It is fitting that Wall was contacted last week by four San Fernando Valley schools wanting to start their own kindness crusades. They know it will aid communities and help heal students.

 

Even more appropriate was that volunteers moving among earthquake victims included a team from the Bakersfield Family Medical Center. Wall disciples all, their T-shirts asked: "Today, I Will Commit One Random Act of Senseless Kindness. . . Will You?"

 

Several hundred thousand Los Angeles residents have no need to respond. They are two weeks into doing whatever they can, whenever asked and mostly without being asked. And their acts are far from random.

 

Dave Carlisle, 66, a Korean War veteran and West Pointer, is a sick man. He has suspended renal failure and his life sentence is three home dialysis treatments each day.

 

Carlisle knew exactly what he needed to do between sessions of cleansing his own blood. While the earthquake still grumbled, he drove to the Wilshire Dialysis Center and answered the phone, got the door and eased the discomfort of other kidney patients.

 

Why would he do that?

 

"Why wouldn't I?" he responds.

 

Joe Molina, a Woodland Hills publicist, felt obligated to kindness by a gift. When he bought ice and emergency supplies at a Ventura Boulevard liquor store, a clerk wouldn't charge him for candles.

 

Molina duplicated the kindness. He drove to Chatsworth to check on friends and employees, ran their errands and invited a dozen to a party at his own cracked home.

 

"It was my Quake Wake, a barbecue the champagne and caviar because being extravagant magnified the pick-me-up," he says. "I saw acts of kindness everywhere. . . .Unlike other times in my city, this time the only thing that was bad news was the quake, not the people."

 

Times reporter Rich Connell could have declined involvement by pleading professional objectivity. But he spent a night in a shelter at Van Nuys High School for one story and was moved by the dedication of volunteer nurses trying to calm crying babies.

 

"There's a point where you say: 'All these people want is a couple of rocking chairs,'" he says.

 

Connell posted an appeal on a city room notice board. He has been given two rockers with promises of more.

The earthquake reduced Beaver's Den - Sandra Beaver's antique store in Tarzana-to three trash containers of broken glass and china.

 

The phone rang at the height of her misery. It was a wrong number, a woman calling from New Jersey and failing in a frantic search for word of an elderly relative.

 

Beaver calmed her, took the Valley number and was able to contact the unharmed relative. Then she called New Jersey with the good news. "Would I have done that before the earthquake, before my customers called to see if we were OK and could they come down and help?" she says. "Probably not."

 

When walls are no longer tumbling down, when damage is repaired and no longer a reminder, will we revert to cutting in and flipping off and barging through our daily encounters?

 

Wall thinks not.

 

He says there's just too much attention being paid to the idea for it to be a phase.

 

"Everywhere you look, every thing you read, everyone you talk to is saying they've had it with violence and that there must be a better way to live," Wall says. "And kindness is a better way."

 

But how can this ideal succeed when most other dreams have sputtered?

 

"Because there are no special interest groups involved and kindness is not a political statement," he says. "No famous people are involved, you don't have to spend money on it, it requires no physical effort and political correctness certainly isn't part of it.

 

"Random acts of senseless kindness is just Heartland America."

 

The Los Angeles Times

 

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