How to Be Kind in an Unkind World
by Anita DiGregory
Last week, after a particularly bad day, I settled in on the couch with my little ones for a much-needed movie night. After scrolling through our choices, we finally decided on an older movie (and one of my favorite family flicks), Evan Almighty, the lesser-known (but in my opinion, better) sequel to Bruce Almighty.(For a parent’s guide to the movie, see: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0413099/parentalguide?ref_=tt_stry_pg).
The movie tells the story of Evan Baxter (Steve Carell), television news anchor turned congressman. Newly elected, Baxter wants to “change the world” for the better, and he has grandiose plans on just how to do it. That is when God (Morgan Freeman) steps in to gently guide Baxter along the proper path of changing the world…a very different way than he had envisioned, with acts of kindness.
Although released in 2007, the movie, complete with scheming political leaders set on their own personal agenda, biased, opinionated television media, and intolerance, seems quite apropos today. Although the irony was lost on my children, they enjoyed the light-hearted comedy. And, hopefully they picked up on the moral of the story, because, as it turns out, acts of random kindness really can change the world, and this world could use that right now.
In 2016, Sesame Workshop conducted a survey on kindness. They issued the following statement: “We chose to shine the spotlight on kindness because we have noticed an increasing number of news stories on anger, fear, bullying, and violence, as well as an overall sense of negativity permeating social discourse. We read research indicating that narcissism is on the rise, empathy is on the decline, and that middle and high school students think their parents prioritize grades and happiness over being kind to others. We also read articles about the importance of empathy and social-emotional skills.”
According to the survey, entitled “K Is for Kind: A National Survey on Kindness and Kids,” over 70 percent of parents and 86 percent of teachers often worry that the world is an unkind place for children. The survey found that both parents and teachers believe people do not go out of their way to help others. Well over 70 percent believe that kindness is essential for future success, stating that it is more important for children to learn and model kindness than for them to be academically successful.
In fact, scientific studies continue to prove the importance and positive effects of kindness. For example, acts of kindness produce chemicals in the body that are shown to lower blood pressure, stress, depression, and anxiety, while increasing optimism, energy, happiness, and self-esteem.
According to Christine Carter, author of Raising Happiness: 10 Simple Steps for More Joyful Kids and Happier Parents, “About half of participants in one study reported that they feel stronger and more energetic after helping others; many also reported feeling calmer and less depressed, with increased feelings of self-worth.” She adds that kindness has been found to lessen the incidence of aches and pains while protecting overall health.
Yet, in a time when news outlets spotlight stories of hatred and social media, and internet news sites are filled with angry, nasty comments, can we even make a difference; how can we “change the world” for the better? Each of us can commit to kindness. Think of what would happen if we chose to perform just three acts of kindness each day. What if we challenged our spouses and loved ones to do the same? What if we taught our children to commit to this as well?
Research has found that kindness is teachable and contagious. Often acts of kindness lead to a “pay it forward” ripple effect. This means that one kind act can lead to dozens within a very short amount of time.
Lizzie Velasquez, author of Dare to Be Kind: How Extraordinary Compassion Can Transform Our World, states, “Kindness starts in the home.” Kindness begins with empathy, the ability to imagine how you would feel in the other person’s place. Parents can choose to teach and model empathy, compassion, gratitude, respect, and kindness to their children. Here is some advice from the experts on how to instill these virtues in your children.
Talk about it. Depending on their age, children may not be able to give a name to an emotion. When watching a show or reading a book with your child, talk about the characters’ feelings. Discuss their facial expressions, behaviors, and actions. Ask your child questions such as “How do you think she feels?” and “What makes you think she feels happy?”
Model Empathy and Kindness. Children learn more from what they experience than what they are told to do. Strive to not only show them empathy and kindness, but also allow them to see you behaving this way with others.
Be a Coach. Provide your children with opportunities for kindness. Give them ideas for showing compassion and kindness in school and the community. Talk about their experiences and offer them tips and advice on developing those skills. Start a “Kindness Challenge” for your family.
We may not all be congressmen, but we can still do our part to change the world for the better, one random act of kindness at a time.