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?

LeahHug

“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.

Orange Basket

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.

Believe

Image

new floats

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.

Feel free to call this series: 365 Reasons to Roll Your Eyes, but science says your own happiness will increase if you share the journey.

#1
I printed out the January 2019 Random Acts of Kindness Calendar to stuff in my adult kids’ Christmas stockings. I thought instead of buying things, our family could bond over the challenge of trying to do something kind in our own little worlds, in a Bingo sort of way. First person to finish five kind acts across the calendar, or down, or diagonal, or a blackout, would win the month and share the victory via family text. If it went well, I’d branch out to my sisters, nieces, nephews and send everyone a February calendar, then March, then…then…then…

random acts of kindness

I anticipated darting glances, an awkward silence or, worse, feigned public interest with hidden giggles. At the last minute, I yanked the gold-tied calendar scrolls and hid them in my underwear drawer. I hung the stockings, with not so much care as a light touch since there was nothing in them but a book: 52 Lists for Happiness: Weekly Journaling Inspiration for Positivity, Balance, and Joy by Moreea Seal.

Who doesn’t want happiness for their children?

Maybe I should have persisted with my Random Acts of Kindness monthly calendar idea. (Would it seem as if I don’t think my kids are kind enough already? Is it pushy to take my values and wrap them as a gift?)

It turns out that kindness makes you happier. In her article for UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Magazine: Science-Based Insights for a Meaningful Life, Elizabeth Hopper breaks down the findings of a May, 2018 study published in The Journal of Social Psychology, authored by Dr. Lee Rowland and Oliver Scott Curry: “A range of kindness activities boost happiness.”

“Researchers asked 683 adults from over two dozen countries—from the United States and Brazil to the United Kingdom and South Africa—to complete at least one act of kindness daily for a week, such as helping a neighbor, writing a thank you card, or paying for someone’s movie ticket. People were encouraged to carry out more kind acts—or different types of kind acts—than they normally would. One group was asked to direct their kindness towards people they were close to (i.e., friends and family), while another group was kind towards people they were less close to (i.e., acquaintances and people they didn’t know as well).

Other participants were asked to make an effort to practice self-kindness—for example, by meditating, going on a walk, or dancing to a favorite song. A fourth group didn’t engage in kind acts themselves, but they tried to observe acts of goodness carried out by other people—for example, when someone volunteered, bought coffee for someone else, or simply stopped to pick up litter. The researchers compared all these groups to a control group of people who went about their lives as usual.”

Small daily acts of kindness – for strangers, or family, or self – can quantifiably improve your happiness. We also get a mood boost by simply observing a kind act being performed.

To keep myself accountable to performing 365 Acts of Kindness, and to make you dear reader, happier by simple observation, I reached out to Kindness.org, a group with this mission statement:

“We are a nonprofit with a bold hypothesis: Kindness is the catalyst in solving the world’s biggest challenges. We believe a kinder world is possible, and we’re here to make it happen.”

Kindness.org offers the opportunity for anyone to become a Citizen Scientist, that is to try and quantify how acts of kindness in the world create positive effects. I offered myself and my writing skills up as a Citizen Scientist with this pitch:

“I too believe a kinder world is possible. I believe there are more ordinary people building a stepping-stone path toward a gentler world than any news story can tell. Invisibility isn’t non-existence. If I can help quantify and amplify with my writing skills how kindness matters, then I’m happy to do so.”

We’ll see if they get back to me. In the meantime, I’m going to call my friend who’s moving today out of the house she’s lived in for more than 30 years. I want to bring her bread and soup.

Be kind
~Catherine

I photographed Niijima Floats,” at Chihuly Garden and Glass in Seattle, WA.

From notes at the farmer’s market

peach

“It’s alright, a farmer’s market is for learning,” says the tall farmer from Reedley, California.

Shaun from Sunny Cal Farms dices ripe peaches into tasting pieces, and he smiles at the mother we both just overheard tell her barely-tall-enough-to-reach-the-top-of-the-table toddler daughter not to grab samples with her hand. The mom returns his smile and offers her daughter a toothpick to grab sections of the juicy stone fruit.

“So if the farmer’s market is for learning,” I say, “can you please tell me something?”

“Sure.”

“These samples are ripe, fragrant and juicy, but the fruit you’re offering for sale doesn’t even smell like fruit.”

The patient farmer explains about having to perfectly time his fruit picking date to take into account his driving time to market, and how you never want to refrigerate stone fruit that’s waiting to ripen or it will become mealy, but how he needs to be able to offer fruit for sale that isn’t past its prime.

“If I picked it perfectly ripe, it would be spoiled by market day. But here’s what you do. Store stone fruit stem down, maybe for a day or two, until it gives slightly when you gently squeeze. Then it’s ripe.”

I bought peaches and plums on faith on Sunday. By Wednesday, I learned that I can trust this farmer and wonder how I’ve lived through so many summers without knowing how to perfectly ripen a peach, a nectarine, or a plum.

What are you waiting for? What art and knowledge are you bringing to the ticks of time separating now from then?

As you wait for whatever it is, here’s a delicious peach poem by Lee Sharkey, one of my favorite quietly strong poets. This poem, “”Its roundness curving to a cleft” is found in Lee’s full-length book, Calendars of Fire, although it was first published, in a different version, in dirtcakesa beautiful literary journal I founded in 2010 and am patiently waiting to figure out how to revive. Poems too, need to ripen. The edits Lee made between the dirtcakes version and the poem in Calendars of Fire, published three years later, show that one of the greatest bounties of wait time is knowing how to use it well.

Its roundness curving to a cleft by Lee Sharkey

I offer a child a perfect peach
pulled from the shadows nesting in a bin of peaches

Mourning dolls hold crosses fashioned of twigs and string
their cheks pinked, kohl eyes veiled by fishnet

A golden morning     long-winged wasp approaching
from the amber mountain            Que vergüenza la guerra!

A peach, then, without blemish when ripeness is upon it
for her to memorize and tear its velvet cheek  (for him to memorize and tear its
velvet cheek)

When someone in the future makes an offering to the heart
its ever-moment passes, hand to hand

Reticence the shell, joy the nutmeat
The skin reluctance, joy the open mouth

With peach juice on my chin,
~Catherine

(An earlier version of this post appeared on Backyard Sisters in August, 2015.)

Just to say what we’re doing here

open arms

Once upon a time, my sister, the amazing photographer Susan Greene, and I shared a blog space called Backyard Sisters.

Sue gets credit for this open-armed, wet-footed photo of me. She always has her camera out on family adventures. My niece recently sent me this photo and said, “it’s a perfect reflection of how I see you: Arms open wide, smiling, and happy.”

Fun fact: Susan and I are middle sisters, a demographic that’s on the decline as families become smaller.

Vintage sisters

If you’re concerned about one way smaller families may impact our culture, you can read up on the wonders of the non-firstborn, or non-lastborn, baby in Adam Sternbergh’s piece, “The Extinction of the Middle Child.” To sum up what I find interesting:

“In fact, the more you learn about the skills of classic middle children — peacemakers, risk takers, levelheaded loyalists with expansive friend groups — the more middle children seem essential to our survival.”

Adam Sternbergh, “The Middle Child is Going Extinct”

So, now that we’ve established Susan and I are essential to your survival, you can follow my writing here and you can find Susan’s creative work at Susan Greene Photography. And if you’re a sentimentalist for Backyard Sisters, we’ll keep it up for a while, post together every now and then. We do still like to share food and places to go and it would be so unlike our spirit of sharing to forever vanish such popular gems as our famous Jalapeño Lemonade recipe, or “I love you yellow,” one of my most popular love posts.

I mean our Backyard Sisters motto has always been: “saving ordinary moments from the brink of oblivion.” And we’re not about to go dark now.
~ Catherine

sunflowers