Monday, November 19, 2018

The Art of Kindness

When my children were young, every morning as they would leave for school the last thing I would tell them is to make good choices. While I still want my now teenage children to make good choices, I have recently started telling them, instead, to be kind. For kindness seems to be a scarce commodity in today's world.

Webster's defines the word kind as being "of a sympathetic or helpful nature." Some of the synonyms it lists are: gentle, softhearted, sympathetic, and warmhearted. Some of the word's antonyms are: atrocious, cruelunfeeling, and vicious.

As someone who is in the classroom on a regular basis, I see high schoolers act in cruel ways every day. And I do call them on it when I see it.  While it is painful for me to see these teens acting in such atrocious ways, I know, to their target that pain is amplified.

Why is it so easy for these young people to choose to act in such heartless ways? The same way it is easy for anyone else to act that way. They don't think about the consequences of their actions and/or they don't care about those consequences. They think kindness equates with weakness. We hear our leaders telling us to be unkind to those who follow the opposite political party. We see our president calling those who disagree with him hurtful names.

How are we to expect our children and teenagers to behave with respect and kindness, when our leaders are telling them to behave in ways that are the exact opposite? It is up to us to model it for them. To teach them. It is up to the adults to be adults.

As parents, we must be kind to our children. While there are times we must be stern with our children, it is unnecessary and hurtful to call our children names or to drudge up past wrongs.  It is cruel to dish out excessive punishment. Instead of offering our children hurtful words and extreme punishments, we need to offer them grace and discipline. We need to allow our children to suffer from the natural consequences of their decisions, yet offer them love and support at the same time.

As educators, we must be kind to our students. Personally, I make it a habit to meet students at the door with a smile on my face and a fist-bump. Sure, many of them probably think it is corny to have a substitute teacher giving them fist-bumps, but most of them reciprocate and some of them even seek me out for a fist-bump even when they aren't in my class that day.

As a substitute teacher who has been in various classrooms for eight years, I used to feel that I couldn't make a difference in a child's life by being in a classroom with them for just one day here and one day there. However, I have come to realize that my smile may be the only smile a student receives that day. My "good morning, how are you?" may be the only kind words a student hears that day. I may be the only person all day who takes the time to look that student in the eyes and acknowledge their existence.

What would happen if every adult in every child's life treated them with respect and kindness? What kind of world would our children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren have if we start right now and treat everyone - man, woman, or child; Republican or Democrat; Christian, Muslim or atheist; white, black, or brown - everyone with respect and kindness?

Remember, it does not have to be some grandiose act. Look a person in the eyes, smile and speak to him or her. Let the person standing behind you in line at the grocery store holding three items go in front of you. Let that car into line in front of you.  Take the time to notice people and speak to them. That's all it takes. Really.

As adults it is up to us to be kind to each other and to our youth.

Be kind.

Do you have any traditions that focus on kindness or helping others? Please share them with me in the comments!

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