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Spread it far and wide

Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.

-Dalai Lama

Have you been honked at lately for not proceeding through an intersection the second a traffic signal turns green? Have you witnessed people being rude to a store clerk if an item doesn’t ring up at the expected price? Have you spoken harshly to anyone lately for no reason other than you feel frustrated about something totally unrelated to the moment? 

As a society, it feels like we’re increasingly becoming more and more rude and less kind. It’s such a problem that there are some organizations solely devoted to helping people learn to be kinder. For example, KindSpring, the Pay It Forward Foundation and the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation are organizations established to encourage people to be nice to one another. They offer ideas on their websites about how people can practice kindness.

After learning about KindSpring’s efforts, rapper-activist "Nimo" Patel created the video, "Being Kind," with the help of an intercontinental crew of volunteers. The video, which features footage from all over the world, including some of the children Nimo works with in the slums of India, quickly gained global fame. (You can watch and listen to the video on YouTube, and hear its message about being kind, one small act at a time.)

There’s even much research devoted to understanding the science behind being kind and conclusive evidence to suggest that kindness is contagious. “When people benefit from kindness they ‘pay it forward’ by helping others who were not originally involved, and this creates a cascade of cooperation that influences dozens more in a social network,” says Inga Kiderra, director of Communications - Social Sciences, Arts and Humanities at University of California San Diego.

With all the effort being poured into helping people treat each other well—basically following the Golden Rule that says we should treat others the way we want to be treated—we have to ask ourselves “why?” Why is it so hard for humans to be nice to one another? 

Carl Nassar, Heart-Centered Counseling director and licensed psychotherapist located in northern Colorado, says, “In today’s world, more and more demands are being placed on each of us. We are all multitasking to various extents, attempting to juggle work, finances, children, spouses, retirement packages, car repair, home care and the often forgotten self-care. Many times, many days, we end up overwhelmed by the demands of life. As a result, we’re hurrying, in a state of anxiety, from one place to the next. Those places may be external, from the office to the bank, or internal, from one worry to the next. Anxiety and busyness trample over many things in life. But, most of all, they tromp over kindness.” 

So what can we do to practice being kind more often, which hopefully will turn into a lifelong habit?

Volunteer

Volunteering to help others through formal channels has many benefits, including teaching us to have empathy for others. 

America’s Promise, a national partnership dedicated to improving the lives of children and youth, asserts that “all children and youth need and deserve the chance to make a difference—in their families, schools, communities, nation and world—through having models of caring behavior, awareness of the needs of others, a sense of personal responsibility to contribute to the larger society, and opportunities for volunteering, leadership and service.”

Another national nonprofit, HelpGuide.org, stated, “While it might be a challenge to coordinate everyone’s schedules, volunteering as a family has many worthwhile benefits. Children watch everything you do. By giving back to the community, you show them firsthand how volunteering makes a difference and how good it feels to help others and enact change. It’s also a valuable way for you to get to know organizations in the community and find resources and activities for your children and family.”

Kindness lessons 

Many northern Colorado schools devote class time to helping students be more kind. For example, some Thompson School District (TSD) middle and high schools implement the Check & Connect program. This intervention program trains volunteer community members to mentor students who are struggling with emotional and social issues, as well as academically—those deemed to be at-risk of dropping out of school. It was developed at the University of Minnesota’s Institute of Community Integration.

One of the primary goals of the program is to keep students in school and motivate them to graduate. Of the dropout prevention interventions reviewed by the U.S. Department of Education, Check & Connect is the only program found to have strong evidence of positive effects on staying in school. 

Raquel Macias, TSD expelled and at-risk student services coordinator, explains that mentors meet with students once a week in the school setting. Beyond the positive academic results, “Mentors serve as role models for kids who haven’t learned how to react to certain situations with kindness. Mentors help them problem solve and have empathy.”

Keep it simple

Another way to help others is simply to be observant and look for ways to lend a hand. It might be as simple as opening a door for someone or shoveling snow from a neighbor’s sidewalk without being asked. Maybe it’s smiling at people you pass on the street and saying, “Hello.” Another simple way to show kindness is to be polite. Say “please” and “thank you,” and use a gentle tone of voice when speaking.

Let it begin with you

Imagine what our world would be like if everyone became more intentional about showing kindness to others. Nassar believes most humans are innately kind, but we let life’s fast pace overshadow that.

He says, “Reclaiming kindness is not so much the act of adding more kindness to our lives, because for all of us, there's a kind heart waiting to be found, buried alive under the busyness. Rather, creating kindness is more about the reduction of the busyness, the anxiety, and the distress, so that our natural kindness has room and space to bubble up, and to be experienced and expressed.

Of course, the task of reducing our stress in a world so full of demands is easier said than done…the key to stress-reduction comes from looking for the moments where we can slow our rhythm back down from the artificial rhythm of busyness to the natural rhythm of deep breathing, and from that place of deep breathing, we can take the time to communicate to ourselves and each other with vulnerability and humanness. The work for all of us is to slow down enough to remember who we are at heart.”