In Practice Random Acts of Kindness, Rabbi Harold S. Kushner observed:

"Being in a totally dark room can be frightening until we discover how little light we need to banish a roomful of darkness. The pain, the hopelessness of the world, may look insurmountable until we move to counter them with little deeds of kindness."

In an article from AFAR magazine, which has been excerpted by The Week, Chris Colin describes a cultural phenomenon in Japan: rent-a-friend. He sets the stage with a brief glimpse into the rampant anxiety, sense of loss, and widespread loneliness in this country that has been rocked by the Fukushima nuclear disaster, the shrinking of the population, the increase in suicides stemming from overwork, and the large numbers of elderly people with no one looking after them.

Enter rent-a-friend, a billable service offered by a company called Client Services. Here are some of their clients:

  • Widowers who want someone to watch TV with them.
  • Single men who need a dating coach.
  • Women who yearn for a shopping companion.
  • Youth who are looking for someone to snap photos of them all day.
  • A writer who wants someone to read and comment on the mystery novel he is working on.
  • A bride who needs someone to be her mother at her wedding.

Many lonely people just want someone to talk to, to eat dinner with, and to bid them farewell with a tender shake of their hands. One rent-a-friend explains: "So many people are good at life online or life at work, but not real life. For such clients, a dollop of emotional contact with a friendly person is powerful." Colin concludes that rent-a-friend is not a miracle cure for what ails Japan but it might be seen as a pressure valve where even synthetic intimacy is better than the isolation, separation, and loneliness that so many Japanese people feel.

Little acts of kindness such as those offered by Client Services shine a light in the darkness and help stem the tide of pain and hopelessness. We know other communities that could use such services, though it would be nice if they were freely offered by religious and other groups.

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