The first time my daughter looked out the window to see a grizzled man leaning on a crutch, with dirty clothes and disheveled hair, she asked, “What does that man’s sign say?” Though generally quick with an answer, I struggled to explain why people simply drive by and ignore a person in need. Think about it...that’s a tough one. If the greatest gift we could give another is to truly see them, how could I tell my daughter---who will most surely change the world for the better!---a bunch of platitudes about not being able to help everyone? If every creature is truly part of the web of life, as Chief Seattle said, and whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves, what message am I conveying to my daughter?
Facing countless Universe-expanding questions such as these has brought me clearly into focus on tenderness, empathy, tolerance and kindness.
In my role as middle school principal, I have the opportunity to bring this focus to my work with thousands of young people. Our school is based on philanthropy and we have a strong focus on giving back to our community in countless ways. Teachers understand the value of making time for social-emotional learning alongside academic curricula and counselors teach character, communication, coping, and decision-making skills to support students as they face the challenges of adolescence. In fact, our teachers take their jobs so seriously that it has become my job to remind them of the need for balance and self-care. All of our meetings begin with showers of praise, include team-building fun and focus on unity. Staff feels connected, students feel accepted and we are spreading goodness a thousandfold!
Today my daughter and I travel with care kits---full of socks, lip balm, snack bars---to hand to people in need. We pick up trash anywhere we see it, recycle and compost with ferocity. We shovel our elderly neighbor’s driveway and maintain a Little Free Library in our neighborhood. We observe the tables around us when dining out and secretly pay their bill. We leave sticky notes of love on cars in parking lots and smile at everyone we meet.
I am spreading kindness through my thoughts, words and actions and I am encouraging everyone I meet to do the same. Our students are influencing others and they, in turn, are influencing even more people. I feel the web shifting as the threads of kindness are taking over and it fills me with incredible hope for the future!