My father had a very Catholic sense of kindness towards other people that he learned growing up and then modeled for us as children. I recall, as a young boy, riding in our family station wagon after church on Sunday, slowing down as a man stepped out of the woods. He’d climb in the backseat with my brothers and me, fingernails packed with dirt and the stale smell of cigarettes wafting from him. We’d then take him to my father’s grocery store to ensure that he would have enough to make it through the week. I, on the other hand, had a very innate sense of kindness, particularly toward animals. As a young child I’d cry when the Thanksgiving turkey was brought to the table. I have always been quite sensitive to suffering and saw the link very early between what we eat and being kind. I knew animals would fight to their last breath not to be on my plate and I’ve not eaten any in over 40 years.
Although my personal life is filled with small acts of kindness that stem from both my innate sense and my learned behavior, I’m fortunate to be able to be “professionally kind”. Not only do I conduct research into kindness at the University of British Columbia, Okanagan, but I’m in charge of a small army of folks who help promote kindness on campus. Upon arriving at UBC with my rescue dog, Frances, I saw the struggling many students had being away from home, and especially their pets, for the first time. In response, I established a program called “B.A.R.K.” (Building Academic Retention through K9s; http://bark.sites.olt.ubc.ca/) that brings trained therapy dogs to campus to help students grappling with stress and homesickness. Over 25% of the student population makes use of B.A.R.K. programs and, now in its fourth year, we’re one of the most popular programs on campus!
From the backseat of the family station wagon, to the kind choices I make in what I eat, and to the work I promote in B.A.R.K., being kind is always at the forefront of my thinking.