Years ago, when I was an elementary school teacher, my students participated in a year long project focused solely on cultivating kindness. The premise was simple: I asked my students to pay attention to each other, and whenever they “caught” a classmate exhibiting a Random Act of Kindness (RAK) they wrote the deed on a slip of paper. Each slip was rolled into a loop, and the loops were stapled together to form a paper chain. A student couldn’t write their own kind act down; it had to be observed and recorded by a classmate. This activity helped the children to stop tattling, and to start noticing the positive qualities in their classmates instead. Some days were marked by bursts of “competitive kindness” with students hoping to have their actions immortalized on the paper chain that, by the school year’s end, wound all the way around the classroom — sometimes more than once! The students received no immediate reward (other than the excitement of a classmate acknowledging their good deed), but we did have a celebratory party on the last day of school. It was a great way to cap off the school year — and let’s face it, no one is teaching out of a text book on the last day anyway!
While some of my fellow teachers admired the project enough to begin using it in their own classrooms, others disagreed. They felt that since it had no academic purpose, it was a waste of classroom time. Others felt that it was too much bother, or had the potential to be disruptive. On one occasion, I was even accused of “bribing” kids to display “false kindness.” I didn’t agree. I believed the habit of kindness could be taught, and that every child should be encouraged to practice compassionate behavior. It has been stated (by many thinkers far wiser than I) that our habits form our character, so why not encourage children to practice behaviors we would like to see in empathetic adults?
Yesterday was the first day of International Random Acts of Kindness Week, which will continue through Sunday, Feb. 16th. While I am sure my readers are already kind, wonderful, loving folks, I want to take a moment to ask you to make an effort to be especially kind this week. The best part of this movement is that everyone, EVERYONE, can truly be a part of it. It’s an equal opportunity activity — the only thing you need is the desire to extend kindness to others.
You don’t need to make a grand gesture. Smile at a stranger when you are out shopping. Hold the door for the person behind you. Help your child study for a test. Make cookies for a neighbor. Laugh. Forgive someone. Every kind act is worthwhile. When Sunday rolls around, don’t stop just because the official RAK week is over. Kindness is one habit you don’t have to break.
Life can be hard sometimes, but caring words and deeds make a difference. A small action you deem insignificant might be the gesture that helps someone else through their day. You may experience enrichment in your own life as well. It seems that when people choose to be kind, they often experience a bump in their self esteem, and become optimistic about the world around them. So, In the end, you might find the person who benefited the most from your intentional Random Acts of Kindness this week was YOU!