Kindness Exchange

 An invitation to the bonfire

Man it’s dark out here sometimes. The holidays swirl through the air personified in the scent of the Christmas trees leaning against the brick wall at the budget grocery store. Walking inside we see a spectrum of life. Terror and sadness are spattered across the stacks of newspapers in a somber ink, while glamour and happiness pose in glossy color for the more average people in line…some of us smiling, others discretely managing food stamps. And as the holidays swirl through the air on a current of seasonal tunes and advertisements, the colors of our feelings seem to saturate, turning vivid in the cold.

The darkness feels especially amplified, at least to me. After a picturesque childhood, I experienced a bit of loss and sadness in adulthood that, while not uncommon, made me realize how powerful the symbol of light in the darkness is.  A flashlight isn’t much good on a sunny day. Here’s how I’ve been using music and social media to light a metaphorical bonfire (and you’re invited).

The Kindness Exchange

The suicide of my cousin made me think deeply about light and darkness. I barely knew her, and yet I miss her terribly. She died four days before a Thanksgiving some years ago. For the third season in a row I’m hosting The Kindness Exchange as a way to honor her. I’d like to invite you to join me in bringing some light into the darkness this season. The idea is simple:

  • Do something nice.
  • Post about it on any social media using the hashtag #Kindness Exchange
  • Get it on the “beacon tree.”  I’m printing out tagged posts and using them as ornaments on a tree lit with red lights. (We’re lighting up the night – literally!)
  • People are invited to make their own beacon tree and decorate it, too.

A theme that intrigues me is that in the faiths that celebrate a holiday in December, light is a central theme. So let’s continue this idea. I’m a musician and the way that I’m trying to bring light to the world is through my music. I’ve been playing tunes in places that might need it – a hospital lobby, a psych ward at a VA hospital, jamming with a homeless guy on the street to earn him a few bucks. (We finally did – it took me a while and I was joking with him that my professional pride was on the line!)

The Clarence Effect

If you haven’t this year, check out the classic movie “It’s a Wonderful Life.” George Bailey’s guardian angel Clarence saves him from suicide and teaches us that perhaps the best way to save ourselves is to save someone else. In the movie, a despondent George stands on a bridge, ready to end it all, when he sees his guardian angel drowning. George jumps in and rescues both of them. Clarence says that was the point all along. So for this reason, I especially urge you to join in The Kindness Exchange if you’re having a rough time this season. (For the record, it’s not the easiest year for me either, so perhaps we’re in the same boat.)

How to get involved

Again, it’s simple. Do the nice things. Post about them online. (Use the hashtag #KindnessExchange to make it searchable to others and for inclusion on the beacon tree.) Make your own beacon tree. Visit a friend. Go way out of your way. Talk with a homeless person. Come join the festivities over at the Facebook group set up for the project (and going strong all year)! I’m also doing something new on the musical front this season. If you know of someone who needs a smile, drop me a note with some details. I’m taking requests to shoot short Instagram videos of a personalized song (free, of course)! Social media makes it so easy to reach out and help people, so let’s see how this experiment works!

Wishing you light this holiday season…I know it’s dark sometimes. I was writing a song recently, thinking about how the magnitude of things can’t be solved just by wishing it away, or singing happy notes. Little acts of kindness seem insignificant, yet if we only have one match, forgotten among the pocket lint and tarnished coins, let’s strike it. It’s a start, and you never know what a spark can do. Together let’s light our way back home.

kindness exchange tree




Josh Urban is a musician living near Washington, DC.  Say hello on Twitter @DontJoshMe, @JoshUrban on Instagram, and visit  

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