“My religion is simple. My religion is kindness.” – the Dalai Lama
Kindness is: “a behavior marked by ethical characteristics, a pleasant disposition, and a concern for others,” according to Wikipedia. It implies that other people matter as much as we do to ourselves. It indicates that we are not alone on the Big Blue Marble and that what affects one of us, impacts all of us.
Kindness is both energetic and interactive. A verb and adjective. We can send kind thoughts to anyone at every moment. It can be as simple as opening a door for someone else or as labor intensive as painting a room for a stranger.
It begins in the home and expands into the community. Multi-generational lessons about consideration have shaped my values. I witnessed my parents engaging in caring activities, such as going grocery shopping for neighbors, delivering meals for people in our congregation when they were ill or someone close to them had died. I marveled at the various volunteering gigs they had at our local hospital and fire house. Even in their waning years, they helped at their community center. My father (plumped up with pillows under a red suit) was a fine Jewish Santa and both helped at the Easter egg hunt. Religion mattered not in those cases.
In my childhood home sat a container into which we would drop coins to donate to UNICEF and on Halloween we would collect change from neighbors. My sister and I participated in swim-athons and I was part of our high school ecology club and did local creek clean ups and volunteered at the recycling center. When my son was a student, he volunteered for Habitat for Humanity and as an adult he has used his cooking prowess to prepare food for a Ronald McDonald House fundraiser.
Christa Tinari is an educator who coauthored the book Create a Culture of Kindness in Middle School: 48 Character-Building Lessons to Foster Respect and Prevent Bullying with Naomi Drew. She is a nationally recognized Safe Schools and School Climate Specialist, with particular expertise in Bullying Prevention, Positive Discipline, and Social-Emotional Learning and the founder of Peace Praxis. Tinari launched a Create A Culture of Kindness and Social Justice Week that includes art, music and various educational activities in the Philadelphia region.
She has addressed the plague of bullying to which students are exposed and has shared ideas to counteract the impact. “You can make a positive impact on a victim of bullying by simply offering support. Support strategies include sending a complimentary text message, offering to walk or sit with the victim, and reassuring the victim that the bully’s criticisms and harsh words are uncalled for and untrue. Every student can use a support strategy — even students who are shy themselves. Support strategies have been found to act as a defense against the pain that bullying inflicts.”
Some kindness tips that she offers:
- Stop hurtful rumors and gossip. People deserve privacy and respect.
- Consider the feelings and experiences of others to strengthen your empathy muscle. Caring shows strength, not weakness.
- Practice observing the feelings of animals. Notice how they respond to your actions and notice what makes them happy or stressed.
- Read literature together with your child and wonder about the characters’ feelings and point of view.
- If you see someone treating someone unfairly, be an upstander! Do something to support the person being picked on.
- Learn about kindness heroes and upstanders. You can be one, too!
In sessions with my clients who feel at odds with family and friends, I suggest the Buddhist concept of the Three Gates and allow their words to pass through them before being expressed:
- Is it true?
- Is it kind?
- Is it necessary?
In 1982, a woman named Anne Herbert coined the phrase and offered the instruction, “practice random kindness and senseless acts of beauty”. Herbert’s book Random Kindness and Senseless Acts of Beauty was published in February 1993 speaking about true stories of acts of kindness.
Do Kindness and Happiness Go Hand in Hand?
According to a study in the Journal of Social Psychology, they do. Scientists in Great Britain elected to measure life satisfaction with predictable results. Those who practiced kind acts noted an elevation in happiness.
There are numerous health benefits that kindness offers which include:
- Relief of pain by kicking up endorphins
- Producing oxytocin (the “cuddle hormone”)
- Instilling “helper’s high”
- Up-leveling energy
- Reducing stress
- It brings people together in community
- It provides a purpose
- It reduces anxiety and depression
The Random Acts of Kindness Foundations encourages people to be RAKtivists who integrate kind acts into their daily lives. They are considered Kindness Ambassadors who do simple things, like help someone carry heavy objects, pay for coffee for the person in line behind them, or the toll for the next driver.
One of my many hats is that of a teacher of mindfulness and yoga for 4-6-year-olds in a day care center. One of the concepts we focus on is kindness. For them that means, listening when others are talking (not an easy thing for tiny humans to do), waiting their turn on playground equipment, sharing their toys, asking permission before hugging or holding hands (something they do frequently), speaking nicely to each other, refraining from name calling or put downs. One of the exercises we do is saying things they appreciate about each other and then they each say what they like about themselves. I this call ‘bragging rights’. Often, we neglect to be kind to the person in the mirror because we are told it is rude or arrogant to do so. How can we know to treat others in ways we don’t know how to treat ourselves?
Musician Nimo (Nimesh Patel) is a troubadour whose tunes encourage kindness. He gave up lucrative careers on Wall Street and as an MTV V-jay to live in an ashram in India founded by Gandhi. His production company is called Empty Hands Music because he believes that although we enter the world empty handed and leave it in the same manner, it is what we do in between that matters. He knows that kindness matters.
Singer songwriter Jewel, echoes that sentiment, “In the end, only kindness matters.”
During the People’s Choice Awards, Ellen DeGeneres waxed poetic about the importance of kindness. “I want everyone to know that we all really, really love one another. Deep down we all love one another, and we need to get back to that. We need more of that right now in the world. That is what most of us feel.”