How a Teacher's Kindness Changed Me

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I’m told that being kind is good for me!

This isn't just a nice idea; it's backed by good evidence. Research at Harvard University found that doing kind things for other people makes us happier ourselves (Top Ten Insights from the Science of a Meaningful Life: http://tinyurl.com/jvmd64l).

A study undertaken at Florida State University, University of Minnesota, and Stanford also adds that giving to others helps us to live more meaningful lives (Key Differences Between a Happy Life and a Meaningful Life: http://tinyurl.com/mz4323x). Yet, I sometimes wonder if my kind actions make very much difference to other people, or to the world in general? Of course, there have been many occasions when I've gone out of my way to support a friend, relative, even a stranger and they've let me know that it's made their lives easier. What I wonder about are those small random acts of kindness - when I only have a little time to offer a kind word, a smile, or let someone out in traffic. It's then I remember Ms. Flemings.

When I was 7 years old I could barely read or write. My parents didn't read much - there were no books in the house. We also moved around a lot and my education was patchy. When my mother enrolled me in the local school I was anxious. I didn't know any of the local children. I was afraid they wouldn't like me and that they would find out that I couldn't read or write. To comfort myself I decided that I would leave the moment if it felt difficult or scary. On my first day, I was ready to go within ten minutes of arriving. I didn't like the noise or the chairs. I'd already found a hole in the fence. That's when I met Ms. Flemings.

I can't remember much about what she said or how she looked, but I remember her warmth and kindness. She smiled and made me feel welcome and accepted. Neurobiologist David Hamilton says that kindness reduces 'emotional distance' between people and makes us feel bonded (5 Side Effects of Kindness: http://drdavidhamilton.com/the-5-side-effects-of-kindness/ ). So, experiencing kindness isn't just a momentary pleasure, it makes people feel a sense of connection and belonging. Something we all hunger for in a modern world where we might not even know our neighbors.

Ms. Flemings' kindness made me feel connected to her and consequently to the school. She made me want to stay. I was only in her class for a short time before my family moved again, but her kindness set me on a new path. I would read for hours - jotting down notes and making up stories of my own. I went on to university and I'm currently finishing up my doctorate. According to psychologist Jonathan Haidt, experiencing or witnessing 'moral beauty' such as kindness has a ripple effect, and also elevates our own morality and inspires us to be kinder, more compassionate people (Profiles in Evolutionary Moral Psychology: https://tinyurl.com/y5l7j3us). This is certainly the case for me.

When I remember the kindness of my teacher it inspires me to become a kinder, more considerate person. I often think about Ms. Flemings and the difference she made to my life. My connection to her helps me to understand that our small acts of kindness are not lost, they ripple out from us and may have undreamt of effects in situations we can hardly imagine. Has a small act of kindness had an important effect on your life?

Jo River | Writer and explorer of the human experience. Health Sociologist at The University of Sydney, Australia. 

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