Be Kind

by Michael Blumenthal
Not merely because Henry James said
there were but four rules of life—
be kind be kind be kind be kind—but
because it’s good for the soul, and,
what’s more, for others, it may be
that kindness is our best audition
for a worthier world.
Oh friends, take whatever kindness
you can find and be profligate in its
expenditure: It will not drain your
limited resources, I assure you,
it will not leave you vulnerable
I assure you, it will not leave you
vulnerable and unfurled.
When I first read this poem in its entirety, I was moved beyond words. Not only did this poet use beautiful language and imagery, he also completely captured the essence of something that is needed more than ever in our world, kindness.
So with the flip of the calendar to November this week, it was also time to change the “Be…” bulletin board in our hallway. For the month of September it read, Be You. Throughout October, Be Inclusive was the message on the board. It now reads Be Kind and there are pictures representing kindness in many different forms as well as short kindness quotes for the children to read and be inspired by as they walk past. In addition, when one enters each Lower School classroom, they see multiple visuals with messages and quotes about being kind. At Renbrook, we define kindness as having concern for others and then showing that concern through thoughts and actions. It’s an important character trait and virtue not only because acts of kindness positively affect others but also because acts of kindness have an amazing impact on ourselves.
We know that as children grow and develop, they need kindness and compassion to thrive and become positive, well-rounded human beings. Studies show there are three manners in which children display kindness: responsive kindness, intentional kindness, and quiet kindness.
Responsive kindness is when children react to a situation with a kind gesture such as when someone drops something and they pick it up for them. Intentional kindness is something planned to help and support another’s needs (physical, social, or emotional). Quiet kindness, the rarest, is when a child does something kind for another and that the person or others don’t see and are not aware of the gesture.
We also know from research that while some humans are born with kind instincts, many need to be taught explicitly about kindness. We as parents and teachers need to create the conditions that encourage our children to react, plan, and execute kind gestures whether or not there is recognition. We need to create a culture of kindness in our homes and school. We need to manage our stress and emotions and respond to others with respect, empathy, and kindness. Our children see everything we do. If we want/expect them to regulate their behavior and emotions, we need to as well. Some things parents and teachers do to support the development of kindness are:
  • Performing simple acts of kindness that model for children everyday gestures that can be done for others.
  • Ask thoughtful questions such as, “What might that feel like?” and/or point out kindness when you see it and unpack the why with the child(ren). 
  • Choose picture books and chapter books to read and discuss together with story lines and themes related to kindness, compassion, and empathy.
  • Discuss the Platinum Rule - Treat others the way they would want to be treated. A hypothetical example of the Platinum Rule playing out for a child is this: if they wanted to give a snack (kind gesture) to their older sibling who just spent a few hours raking leaves, they might choose their favorite snack not realizing/thinking that they should choose their sibling’s favorite snack. Children need to be coached to understand the difference between the Golden Rule and the Platinum Rule.
  • Volunteer and perform community service in a way that provides the child(ren) an opportunity to give back in an authentic way beyond a monetary donation.
I think that what matters the most when it comes to kindness is not whether we are on the receiving end or displaying kindness to others, but rather how often kindness shows up in our lives. Every human being deserves to have kindness all around them each and every day. We all just need to be kind be kind be kind be kind…
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