The Kindness Exchange

Post by Josh Urban for the Kind Kindred series.

photo of Josh’s “beacon tree”

A Global Project to bring Light into the Darkness

The frost appears on the windows, the traffic snarls, the brake lights cast a ruddy glare for miles. When the experts aren’t debating the definition of torture and national security, the radio spits out a familiar song over the cheap speakers. It’s the most wonderful time of the year.

Some will agree, others not. I’ve been in both camps, but no matter where I stand, the holidays are always vivid.

When I was a small boy, I distinctly remember being puzzled at why people couldn’t like the holidays. “But mom, Santa comes around this time of year!” The miles ticked away on my odometer, and the road went through some dark and scary forests, as well as golden fields. People died, life got hard, and then, four days before a recent Thanksgiving, my teenage cousin committed suicide.

The Darkness seemed crushing, chilling. It was eating people. And it seemed like it was happening around the holidays. Things got better, but the memories remain. And around this time of year, they reappear like Christmas ghosts, especially when I hear a choir singing my late grandfather’s favorite song. He passed away a few days before Christmas in 2006. I remember looking at the tree, and squinting my teary eyes. The lights streamed out into the darkness like Christmas ribbon candy – like a beacon. Those lights…in spite of that darkness…From the other people I talk to, I realize that I’m not alone in this swirl of emotions around this time of year. I came up with something small to do with all of this.

Of all the faiths that celebrate a holiday in December, the theme of light in the darkness is a central tenant. The world is a complex place, but no matter the immensity of the problem, or how cleverly we disguise and forget our humanity and hurt, we do have the ability to create change right now.

Sometimes, when we can’t see anymore and the wind howls with a chill in it’s teeth – that’s exactly when we need to light a match.

There’s many ways to do so, and I’d like to invite you to join in this thing that I started last year. It’s my way of striking a match. Perhaps you can light one, too. It’s called The Kindness Exchange. The idea might seem trite in it’s simplicity, but I’ve found it meaningful.

  1. Do (or see) something kind. Go out of your way, and buy that homeless guy a cup of coffee.
  2. Post about it online using the hashtag #KindnessExchange. (This makes the post searchable.)
  3. I’ll be collecting tagged posts, and putting them on a lit beacon tree in my front yard. We’ll literally be lighting up the night with our good deeds.
  4. This year, I’m inviting everyone to make their own beacon trees. Simply decorate a tree, shrub, etc, with red Christmas lights, and put the reports of good deeds on it like festive ornaments.

For me, kindness heightens the joy of a bright time, but more importantly, can serve as a life raft in a time of struggle. So, I send out a special invitation if this season finds you sad. I’m wondering if, as Clarence in It’s a Wonderful Life showed George Bailey: Maybe the best way to save ourselves is to save someone else.

I’ll see you out there. Let’s light up the night.

Please visit to join in.

I’m Josh. I’m a musician. I recently wrapped up a music project centered around the creation of kindness in the holiday season – and unwittingly uncovered a cultural puzzle that I think can be solved by language to dramatically better the world in which we live. 
The puzzle is this: 
How can we talk about the good things that we do – without bragging?


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