Is kindness more than skin deep?

Maybe this week’s actions aren’t even in the category of kindness. You tell me, according to 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.”

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I’m a white woman.

I mostly bake white bread.

I live in a country where white families are statistically still – as in it’s always been this way – wealthier than non-white families.

I live in a country where white students are statistically still – as in it’s always been this way – scoring higher on standardized testing.

I live in a country where white babies are statistically still – as in it’s always been this way – twice as likely to survive their birth than black babies.

“…recently there has been growing acceptance of what has largely been, for the medical establishment, a shocking idea: For black women in America, an inescapable atmosphere of societal and systemic racism can create a kind of toxic physiological stress, resulting in conditions — including hypertension and pre-eclampsia — that lead directly to higher rates of infant and maternal death…” New York Times Magazine, “Why America’s Black Mothers and Babies Are in a Life-or-Death Crisis” by Linda Villarosa. April, 2018.

Can I spend a whole year dedicated to kindness and not inform myself deeply, and talk about, about these inequities?

I’ve benefitted all my 60 years from being white. I’ve never seen art or literary works by white women hauled out for special attention during “White History Month.” It’s assumed that my whiteness is always visible and on the shelf. Every month is white history month.

Yes, there are fewer women than men represented in the arts, and we’ll get our Women’s History Month in March, but I never have to decide if I should first fight for my race rights or my women’s rights.

When I read books by people of color, I specifically have to seek them out. Representation on book shelves isn’t even close to being equal. For example, when I searched for books in my countywide library system with “kindness” in the title, I got 79 results, none written by a person of color.

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Well, there is that one children’s book about a former slave, written by a white woman, but illustrated by a black man. Does that count? It’s the true story of William “Doc” Key, a former slave. Doc trained his horse Beautiful Jim Key to spell and read by using kindness rather than cruelty. The “Afterword” points out that “Doc and Jim’s legacy lives on in today’s stronger humane movement, better enforced animal anticruelty laws, and greater societal compassion toward animals?” Is it easier for us to advocate for kindness toward animals than kindness to each other?

I have a white dog to whom I’m incredibly kind. I’m friends with black dogs.

I subscribe to newsletters: one from Lee & Low Books, “the largest multi-cultural children’s book publisher in the country and one of the few minority-owned publishing companies in the United States”; and another from We Need Diverse Books, a non-profit and grassroots organization of children’s book lovers that “advocates essential changes in the publishing industry. Our aim is to help produce and promote literature that reflects and honors the lives of all young people.”

I follow @goodblackreads@wellreadblackgirl, and @diverseclassics on Instagram to help lead me to books I might not easily find on my own.

In Old English, “kindness” or “kyndness” means “nation.” This is a derivative of “kind.”

Middle English kinde, from Old English (ge)cynde” natural, native, innate,” originally “with the feeling of relatives for each other,” from Proto-Germanic *kundi- “natural, native,” from *kunjam “family”

“With the feeling of relatives for each other…”

What would you do for family? What does any of this have to do with kindness?

If you’re following along with this month’s “Grow your heart” Kindness Calendar, you’ll notice repetition:

February 1: Find ways to volunteer in your community. Send 3 e-mails asking for information from a group.

February 6: Seek out a book or film set in a community different from yours.

February 8: Did you hear back from your 3 volunteer organizations?

February 21: How’s that book / film coming? Read more.

February is Black History Month. I’ve been reading, devouring really, stories about being black in America. Histories. Herstories.

I watched Jada Pinkett Smith’s Red Table Talk: Unpacking White Privilege and Prejudice.

I’ve been listening too. I heard this conversation, after a viewing of BlacKkKlansman:

What was the timeframe for BlacKkKlansman? At least it’s not like that in America anymore. Things are better now.

Better for whom? I’d like for my kin to experience no measurable disparity among races.

In 2019 still, in America, being black is a statistical disadvantage for mental health and physical safety, bad for economic stability, and for representation in books, film, art, dance, music, in boardrooms and for over-representation in the criminal justice system. Anything other than white is still “other.” If you’re shaking your head “no, no, no” right now, take a reading break and go on a search engine scavenger hunt. Look up “weathering hypothesis” and “black infant mortality.” Read “A visual look at discriminatory lending in the U.S.” Look up “US Incarceration Rates by Race.”

If I solely identify as white, I don’t have to spend one second of time or energy fighting racism on my own behalf, or that of my family. I statistically benefit every day from things I did nothing to earn but being born of white parents. This leaves me with a hefty store of reserves for #KindInKind, starting with my February 22 suggestion:  How about that volunteer effort?

I volunteer with the Orange County Human Relations committee to speak about hate crimes: How to identify them, report them, prevent them. I went through hours of training, a background check, fingerprinting, practice.

I’ve been waiting more than a year for someone to call on me to present, to allow me to stand safe on the other side of the podium under the banner of OC Human Relations committee and talk about race issues. I’m happy to speak to you or your group, but I’m not waiting anymore for someone to call to take action.

Do you want more from Black History month than quoting Martin Luther King?

Here are four things you can do to kindly “Grow your heart.”

Read: Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson.

Just Mercy is an unforgettable account of an idealistic, gifted young lawyer’s coming of age, a moving window into the lives of those he has defended, and an inspiring argument for compassion in the pursuit of justice.”

Listen: The red line: Racial disparities in lending  by Reveal, The Center for Investigative Reporting.

“Forty years ago, Congress passed the Community Reinvestment Act, which required banks to lend to qualified borrowers in blighted neighborhoods. The act aimed to eliminate government-sponsored housing discrimination, known as redlining…Today, a new epidemic of modern-day redlining has crept quietly across America. The gap in homeownership between African Americans and whites is now wider than it was during the Jim Crow era.”

Watch: Slavery by Another Name, a 90-minute documentary.

“It is rare to have the opportunity to bring to television a story that, outside of academic circles, is virtually unknown,” says tpt National Productions’ Catherine Allan, executive producer of the 90 minute documentary for PBS.  “In telling the story of what happened to African Americans over the 80 year period of “neo-slavery”, we hope to add a significant new facet to America’s ongoing discussion about race.”

Write: Write to your library, your children’s school, your church, your market, your favorite book publisher / shoe store / media outlet / pet store. Write a letter that goes something like this:

Dear________________________,

I appreciate all you do.

You know I’ve always been a supporter of ________________, and I know the impact all your great work has in the field of ____________________.

Are you open to a suggestion? In ___________________ (months, years) it seems the number of white (presidents / preachers / teachers / presenters / readers / managers / guest speakers / etc.) far outnumber those who are people of color.

Don’t you think it’s time to make more opportunity and visibility available to the full spectrum of humanity that lives in our country?

Of course I wouldn’t dare make a suggestion without offering resources. I’m here to help in any way I can. (Don’t worry, dear reader. If you write this letter, I’m willing to help you find those resources. #KindInKind.)

Hunh, I really didn’t anticipate a deep dive in this Year of Kindness, but deep I go. That dialogue about race everyone’s saying we need to have? It’s been going on and on and on and as a white woman, I need to listen, to learn, to speak up, to widen my circle of  kynd.

I like white bread.

I like my white dog.

I love my white grandchildren. And I really want them to work with me on changes that create kindness and lasting equality in their lifetime. 

Be well. Be aware. Be kind.
~ Catherine

You don’t need to like me

The Glass Forest

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.

 

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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.

There’s:
Random Acts of Kindness Foundation.
Kindness.org
Doing Good Together
The World Kindness Movement
Spread Kindness.org

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?

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“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.

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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.

Until then
Be well. Be aware. Be kind.
~Catherine

I photographed “The Glass Forest” at Chihuly Garden and Glass in Seattle, WA.

Through my mother’s eyes

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She said, “Show me how you meditate.”

One of my favorite kind acts of January was sharing mindfulness meditation resources with my mom and dad.

Do you want great ideas for ways to spread kindness in February?

Reach out on the contact form below and I’ll share a gorgeous February calendar to give you a kindness quest for every day. The 8 1/2 x 11″ printable PDF calendar is free. It’s intentionally designed by Monica Greene, a young artist I’m crazy about.

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From her design stylesheet:

“That leads me to the color palette. Flowers such as primrose and violet are often associated with February as they are the first flowers to bloom in the cold. I thought this imagery was beautiful as they are harbingers of spring and better things to come and your calendar is serving as a harbinger of positivity and beauty in the winter month…

The leaves are from the Ash tree, another symbol for February and by calling on the tree a source I read says, “…you are seeking a clarification for your own vision and path”. I thought this calendar could be the clarification needed…”
Monica Greene

Go be kind.
Share your kindness journey at #KindInKind
~Catherine