How to Put the “I” in Kindness

Children raising hands in classroom.

Kindness isn’t usually automatic; you have to let it grow over time.

Last month was Bullying Prevention Month and an issue like bullying can’t be discussed without using words like kindness, sympathy or compassion. One bullying prevention website, for example, says that we, “are united against bullying and united for kindness, acceptance and inclusion.” Couldn’t have said it better myself. But what do those words actually mean? Better yet, what do those words look like in action? Defining “kindness” is crucial if we want to see them demonstrated in our own lives and in the lives of students.

Kindness Not Niceness

When most of us hear the word kind we instantly think of niceness. But, wouldn’t you agree that kindness has a richer meaning than simply being “nice”? You can be nice to someone without actually being kind. Kindness is a deeper, more internal posture. Niceness, on the other hand is more surface-level or shallow. states that being kind is “having or showing a friendly, generous, sympathetic or warm-hearted nature.” Let’s examine that definition. What kinds of things do you think of when you hear the word friendly? I think of words like loyalty and trustworthiness. What about the word generous? Descriptors like liberality and more-than-enough come to mind for me. Sympathetic? If someone is sympathetic it means that they can actually feel what I feel. And warm-hearted? In my mind, a warm-hearted person has an openness and receptivity toward others. A welcoming heart, if you will. To sum it up then, kindness is an internal heart posture that manifests itself in a loyal, lavish, with-you-where-you-are receptivity toward others that doesn’t withhold good.

Wow! With a definition like that, it doesn’t seem like it’s possible to fake being kind. In fact, it would appear that kindness is something that we must choose to cultivate over time. Do you want to grow in kindness? I sure do. So how can we cultivate kindness in our own lives and teach children how to cultivate it in theirs? Just do it.

How to Cultivate Kindness

It’s easy to cultivate offense or bitterness. Those all-consuming feelings and attitudes seem to spring up on their own with little help. Kindness or forgiveness, though? For most of us, those aren’t easy. In fact, it seems like we have an internal resistance to developing those. And so we wait for some sort of life event or feeling to jump-start us. But we don’t have to wait. Our ability to be kind is limited only by our willingness to jump right in and take the time to grow.

  1. Practice Considering Others. Take time to think about the people in your world. Pick one person you interact with regularly, particularly someone that annoys you. Take out a sheet of paper and consider, for a few minutes, what is going on in their world right now. How is their health? What’s going on in their family? What’s something you really appreciate about them? You get the idea. Write down your thoughts and then throw the paper away. Take time to do this regularly and I bet considering others will become second nature to you.
  2. Plan It. If you did number one, you probably have a few good ideas about putting kindness into action. I’m sure you have heard of random acts of kindness, which are awesome. But what about planned, thoughtful acts of kindness? How meaningful was it to you the last time somebody said, “Hey I was thinking about you the other day…” and followed it with an action? Are there some thoughtful actions you can take to show kindness?
  3. Go Covert. Sowing kindness in secret takes the focus off of us or our need for the affirmation of others and puts it right back onto the object of our kindness. Write an anonymous letter. Rake your neighbor’s leaves when they aren’t home. Make a thoughtful anonymous donation. Whatever you do, do it in secret.
  4. Take Time. Our time is the most valuable resource we can offer people. You “feel” it when you give time. Writing a check, for example, takes 15 seconds and we may barely notice the money leaving our bank account. But sitting with a friend—or a stranger—for an hour or more and listening quietly? That’s a little more challenging, but the impact-potential is great.

Kindness in the Classroom

Many of the ideas above are transferrable. If you’re a teacher, help your students consider their classmates by walking them through that first exercise.

  1. Practice considering classmates. Prompts are really important and here are a few: What’s something you admire about this person? Are they going through any tough circumstances that you are aware of? Have they had any successes or achievements you can celebrate with them? When you are done, have your students turn their papers into you so that you can make sure each of them followed the instructions. Then throw them away. Remember the goal of this exercise isn’t to build each other’s self-esteem. The goal is to help your students consider others.
  2. Get-To-Know-Ya Sessions. Maybe we need to back it up a little bit and have a “Get-To-Know-Ya” session. Create a questionnaire that your students will use to get to know other students in the class. You can use questions like: When is your birthday? How many brothers and sisters do you have? What do you like to do after school? What’s a favorite memory? Assign each student a classmate, have them interview each other and then have them write a report on the person. This can help your students develop an awareness of others.
  3. Thoughtful-Acts-Of-Kindness Reports. Have students take time to consider a family member or a neighbor (see number one for more on this). Then have them put what they learned into action. For example, if a student realized that a neighbor’s pet has died, he could write a sympathy note and hand deliver it. Then have them turn the whole experience into a report they can share with the class. They may even start inspiring one another.
  4. Classroom-Acts-Of-Kindness. As a class, spend time considering the needs in your community. Have your class agree on an action that the class can take to be kind to the community. This could be a food drive or litter cleanup. Every community will have different needs and I guarantee you that your students will come up with some brilliant ideas.

Kindness may not come naturally to any of us, but the opportunities to grow in kindness are endless. And often we—and our students—need a jump-start. Use the exercises above in your personal life (and in your classroom) to give your kindness growth a jump-start. Give yourself a week or a month and set your heart to do a kindness exercise every day. I think we’ll all be pleasantly surprised with the results.



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