In the words of Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson – “Not only do I think being nice and kind is easy, but being kind, in my opinion is important.”
I too believe kindness is incredibly important. Kindness is central to the sustainability of our existence. Kindness given without requirement of return, not out of duty but out of feeling. Kindness given in recognition of our shared humanity. Kindness stemming from empathy.
My school has five key values, the acronym of which is HEART. The A is for Atawhai – which is Māori for kindness, compassion, empathy. I’ve always liked the fact that Atawhai is in the middle of HEART and in the middle of our values wherever they appear in the school, because to me – Kindness is Everything. If you’re kind to people you will respect them. If you’re kind to people you won’t hurt them. If you’re kind to people you won’t lie to them. If you’re kind to yourself you will develop confidence.
Kindness is at the centre of how I try to live my life.
Try to be a rainbow in someone’s cloud.
Yesterday I had a bad day. There were a few things that went wrong, a couple of big disappointments, and an overwhelming sense of ‘this is too hard’. I had a bit of a melt down. At work. In front of my immediate boss. She came up to me and held me, told me it would be okay (even though we both know it probably isn’t in our control to change it one way or another), and then suggested we go out for coffee and a chat. She could have told me to pull myself together. She could have ignored me and rolled her eyes at my emotion. But her kindness (which she shows always) helped centre and calm me. Knowing she supports me is important, but it is the kindness in how she showed that support which sticks with me. Our whole department has that core of kindness. I think we’re all nice people, but my boss has fostered a culture of care which is reflected in the fact that when my marriage was breaking up five years ago, I couldn’t have coped so well without my co-workers’ love and atawhai.
I’m lucky enough to see kindness in my students as well. I will never forget the kindness shown to another student by his friend. He was stressed out and unhappy and had tried to hide away from everyone in my classroom at lunchtime, where he put his headphones on and was working on a computer, having asked me to keep his mates away. One of them walked in and waved his hand at me like ‘don’t worry miss’ when I motioned for him to leave his friend alone. He came up behind him and swallowed his shoulders up in a giant bear hug. They stayed like that for a minute and I could almost see his empathetic energy going into his friend. Then he patted his mate on the shoulder and left, flashing me a big smile. It was one of the most heart-warming things I’ve seen.
They show me kindness too, these teenagers. On one occasion this year when I had been deeply hurt by one student (which I’ve talked a bit about here), more gathered around me afterwards to hug me and to tell me that they loved me, and not to listen to the harsh words of their classmate. I’ve had students send me emails to say sorry for their behaviour or to wish me luck for an endeavour I’d mentioned briefly in passing. I’ve had students notice that I’m not myself when I’m unwell or tired and ask me if I’m okay. For all that we diss teenagers, they can be wells of compassion.
Every act of kindness grows the spirit and strengthens the soul
I believe we should be kind in our society too. Compassion for those less fortunate than us is pretty easy if we just remember two things:
First – “There but for the grace of god go I.” We work hard, sure, we endeavour and persist. But we are also simply lucky. Lucky to have supportive families. Lucky to have skills that are desired by employers. Lucky to have homes. Lucky not to be fleeing a war. Lucky not to be struck down by an illness. Lucky to be socially acceptable. Lucky to be able to function in society with all of its obstacles.
Second – The person in difficult situations is exactly that, a person. People deserve compassion. A quote I particularly like is “Be the reason someone believes in the goodness of people”. We help out a dog who is starving and homeless and poorly treated. It arouses our compassion, our empathy, our kindness. I will never understand why the sight of a fellow human in distress can lead to unkind dismissal and contempt.
Kindness is a gift everyone can afford to give
My children have a lot of atawhai. We were in the city this winter and passed an old homeless man. They both turned to ask if I had change but unfortunately I didn’t. We were with their grandmother and she shouted us afternoon tea. My 9 Year Old enjoyed the hot cheese scone he’d shared with me so much he asked for another one to take home just for him. I indulged him and when we left it was with a hot buttered scone in a paper bag clutched in his happy little hands. We walked past the homeless man again and a few steps past him, little Mr 9 said thoughtfully, “He looks hungry. I could give him my scone.” I nodded, said yes he could if he wanted to. I knew how much he’d been looking forward to the scone himself and could see how torn he was. He gave a resolute little nod and went back to the man and handed him his scone. He didn’t just give him his scone, he gave him a smile and eye contact and acknowledgement. In that small action, my young son showed more compassion and empathy than many of the adults who walked that same street. It didn’t matter to him what mistakes the man may or may not have made to be in that situation, only that it was cold, he was without a home, had no shoes, and looked hungry.
Kindness is the golden chain by which Society is bound together.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
One of the best things about kindness is that it is self replicating. It spreads. It is contagious. Not just the fact that a smile is passed from person to person, but the fact that little kindnesses and care creates wellbeing. Wellbeing enables people to, in turn, care for others.
Kindness can be spread so easily, and it makes such an enormous difference. I truly believe that if kindness became our creed, our measuring stick for all our actions both personal, professional, and political, we could make a much better world.
I will continue to hope, and to be kind.
Remember there’s no such thing as a small act of kindness. Every act creates a ripple with no logical end.