By Barbara Gruener
We’ve all undoubtedly read or heard about the importance of our carbon footprints and digital footprints, but I would submit that equally if not more important is our kindness footprint.
As a veteran educator finishing up and reflecting upon my thirty-second school year, I can’t help but wonder, “Do my students know that one of my greatest desires for their future is that they treat one another with kindness?
Because kindness matters, everywhere, all the time, in every interaction.
But beyond encouraging our future leaders to “Be kind,” how can we inspire them to walk the talk and live the kindness ideal as they leave their imprint on the hearts and minds of the people whose paths they cross?
We can mobilize kindness by our example.
Kindness is one size fits all. Kind acts don’t have to be great to be grand. Mother Teresa reiterated this reflection best when she said, “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.”
Consider these simple but powerful ideas for people of all ages: Share a kind word or a smile, an affirmation or a compliment, a thoughtful text or a thinking-of-you email; hold the door opened for someone and welcome him or her with a friendly greeting; plug a few quarters into someone else’s parking meter; make smile cards and, with permission, leave them under windshield wipers on cars in a parking lot or inside books at your local library; let the car behind you have the closer parking spot; return that lost shopping cart back to its corral; donate a sick day to a colleague who is out with an illness or death in the family; leave a cup of coins to pay for a few loads of laundry at the Laundromat; buy the person behind you in line a cup of coffee or a Coke; send an uplifting song from YouTube or iTunes to cheer someone; make get-well cards and ask your pharmacist to put them with the prescriptions; donate your gently-used clothing and/or toys; tape a dollar to the Redbox so that the next person’s rental is on you.
Kindness is love with its work boots on. Some kindnesses require a little more time, a helping hand, and maybe even a little sweat.
Lace up your boots and try one or more of these ideas: Give someone the gift of time by doing some chores or duties in their stead; offer to take someone else’s children to the park to give them a quick break; make an extra large batch of something special in the kitchen and share a meal with someone; help clean up after a sporting event; donate some time stocking shelves at a food pantry or walking the dogs at an animal shelter; mentor someone; buy a case of water and deliver bottles to cool off the workers as a nearby construction site; donate some socks to a homeless shelter; offer to mow someone’s lawn, rake the leaves so they can mow, or sweep the sidewalk after they’ve mowed; shovel some snow; pull some weeds in the garden of an elderly neighbor; offer to drive someone to a doctor’s appointment; take a bouquet of flowers to brighten someone’s grave.
Kindness is the real global warming. Sheila Sjolseth from the non-profit Pennies of Time suggests engaging in a kind act with your family (like she and her husband do with their two elementary-aged boys) every single day. Can you imagine the global warming that a familial practice like that could generate?
While she advises starting small, here are some ideas to do something a bit bigger when you’re ready: Go to City Hall and pay the utility bill of a family in need; help pay for a part of someone’s school tuition or for their school supplies; put together toiletry kits for the homeless; use a skill like knitting to help warm someone up with a hat, some mittens or a scarf; tip generously; buy a haircut gift card and donate it to the local food pantry to hand out with the food; support a favorite charity in honor or memory of someone; put up a lemonade stand and donate the proceeds to a cause dear to a neighbor’s heart; send a pizza to the police station, fire station, hospital or nursing home and treat those community helpers to dinner one night.
Kindness knows no calendar. Here’s amazing news; we don’t need to wait until a special occasion like the end-of-the-year holidays to shower people with kindness. Opportunities for random or planned acts of kindness are as limitless as there are people willing to concoct them and carry them out. If your school wants to join other students worldwide to feel the synergy of a kindness celebration, sign up now for the Great Kindness Challenge at the Kids For Peace website.
Kindness is the new cool. Kindness creates a win-win, and what could be cooler than that? Not only does it serve to help its recipient but it also creates a helper’s high in the hearts of those who serve. In that way, just like a boomerang, kindness always makes its way back to us. Now that’s a footprint that we can be proud about leaving behind.
About Barbara Gruener
Barbara Gruener is a counselor and character coach at Westwood-Bales Elementary, a National School of Character. She grew up on a family dairy farm in Wisconsin and credits life on the farm with helping build her strength of character and work ethic during her formative years. Though she’ll tell you that she informally started teaching when she was in kindergarten, Barbara has worked a s a teacher and counselor with students across all grades, pre-K through twelfth, for thirty years — sharing her message about the importance of shaping hearts and minds for the future with kindness, respect, and care.