I mean I really do appreciate all the like and love clicks. ButI also hope to inspire you to try a few acts of kindness yourself and tell me how it goes.
It’s been just over a month since I vowed:
“I’m embarking on a new adventure: to intentionally incorporate one simple act of kindness into each day for one year. My certainty that kindness can change the world is a little like throwing a glass ball into the ocean and believing it won’t break.”
My glass globe of kindness is bobbing along but it’s picking up a little drag along the way.
- What is kindness and why am I doing this anyway?
- Is kindness different from being nice?
- What if my kind of kindness takes longer than one day to perform?
- Might I disappoint some people in order to be kind to others?
- How do I define kindness?
After one month of doing everything from hosting a Vision Board Potluck party, to romping through the mud for 7 miles to make my pup happy; from taking my Mom and Dad out to lunch and photographing them, to baking bread for my neighbor, I’m learning a few things. And speaking of learning, I took an intensive weekend-long poetry writing class to be kind to myself and my readers too.
So far, this is my definition:
“Kindness is any gesture I make directly to, or on behalf of, myself, my fellow humans, or the environment, as a way of saying, “I see you. I believe we’re interconnected. I recognize your dignity and value.
Kindness must be offered in a way that arises out of attentiveness to another. No one wants to be felt sorry for as much as listened to. Seen. Heard.”
Don’t worry. It’ll smooth out to sound more poetic by the end of the year.
Another thing: for now, I’m challenging myself to actions, rather than donating to causes. I believe there’s a human connectivity that compels me to acknowledge and be grateful for all the goodness I’ve received. This connectivity is the foundational belief between the name of my project, #KindInKind. I’ve received kindness and I’ll return it, “in kind,” a phrase defined by Merriam Webster Dictionary as “consisting of something (such as goods or commodities) other than money.”
Here’s news to anyone who doesn’t tune in to conversations that take place without shouting. Spreading kindness is an entirely unoriginal idea.
To some, kindness means an odyssey, a test of the altruistic limits of humanity as in The Kindness Diaries TV series, or the memoir, The Kindness of Strangers: Penniless Across America by Mike McIntyre.
To others, it’s about creating a grand gesture like One Million Acts of Good.
For all this focus on kindness, you’d think it would be as natural an instinct as breathing, and we’d all be nothing but a big ball of happy. We’ll get there. I firmly believe we will.
Would it surprise you to learn there’s a gender bias about the expectation of kindness?
“Words like kind and responsible, while generally used in a positive way overall, were used more consistently as valued traits for women,” according to a July, 2018 report published by the Pew Research Center, “How Americans describe what society values in men and women.”
So here again, my focus on kindness isn’t surprising. I’m a woman. I should be kind. But so should we all because kindness leads to healthier humans, especially in healthcare settings. Recent research by Stanford University’s Center for Compassion and Altruism found that:
“The statistical significance of kindness-oriented care on improved health outcomes is larger than the effect of aspirin on reducing a heart attack or smoking cessation on male mortality.”
Even rats are impacted by kindness; they develop empathy for who (or what) is helpful to them and return a favor in-kind. You can read all about it in “Rats rescue robots,” a 2018 research study printed in the science journal Animal Behavior and Cognition. Here’s a compelling excerpt.
“There is even some evidence that rats show a form of indirect reciprocity and will “pay it forward,” by rewarding an unknown, unrelated rat that has never rewarded them, but only if they have experienced reward previously provided by other rats.”
I’ll keep testing the theory that kindness can change humanity and push it more in February with the theme “Grow your heart.” I’m learning about the California land where I live, and that means its natives, both people and plants.
Yes, I still bake and share bread and meals, send cards, make time for deep conversations, and do small gestures like running an errand for a neighbor or visiting family. January’s theme, “Close to home” continues its ripples.
But in February so far I’ve dug deep into the history of the Juaneño Band of Mission Indians, Acjachemen Nation, people who first lived where I live in California, to learn how I might develop curriculum for California schools which still teach a 4th grade mission unit that overlooks first nations.
I’ve researched a common and prolifically applied weed killer ingredient, Glyphosate, and its ill effects on humans and honeybees and am advocating against its use in my neighborhood.
These acts are more complex than simple random gestures. They frequently take longer than a day to finish and they push me to be brave as I approach those with different ideas than mine. In being kind to one person, I might appear to be not nice to another. Am I doing this right?
As I live my questions in the Year of Kindness, I remain inspired by the wisdom of others like R.J. Palaccio, the author of Wonder, who said in an interview after the film was released:
“I think if anything it takes much more courage to be kind in the face of everything. The choice that you can respond to any situation…with kindness…elevates us as people. It’s what we should aspire to be and aspire to do. Kindness is one of those things: You are made kind by doing kind and being kind. Now, more than ever, it’s a message that needs to get out there in the world.”
Some remarkable things have already happened.
I’ve gotten countless e-mails, DMs, texts, and phone calls from folks I know, and some I’ve never met, who say they’re inspired by all this kindness and they too are now walking through 2019 more aware of their fellow human beings.
They’ve committed to one kind act here, a month’s worth of kindness there.
I hired a talented young graphic designer to make a February Kindness Calendar for you. It’s filled with ideas on how to make your month, or week, or day more kind. If you want one, drop me a line and I’ll e-mail you the free downloadable PDF.
I’d also love to read your definition of kindness. As George Saunders said in his speech that went viral on the New York Times website and is now printed as Congratulations, by way: Some Thoughts on Kindness.
“Because kindness, it turns out, is hard—it starts out all rainbows and puppy dogs and expands to include…well, everything.”
What is your everything? Please tell me.
Be well. Be aware. Be kind.
I photographed “The Glass Forest” at Chihuly Garden and Glass in Seattle, WA.