It’s World Kindness Day today and, as someone who has spent many years helping kick off or close out Kindness Weeks in schools, I know that designated dates can help spur us into action. My fear, however, with “calendared Kindness” is that it sometimes sets us up for some surface-level selflessness.
In my experience, Kindness Days or Weeks often promote widespread generosity - clothespins with affirmations, high-five hallways, or post-it notes with inspirational quotes or quips. And, while these are certainly lovely and important, I’m not sure if they always set us up for deep impact or ongoing behavior change.
After working for the past 10 years in schools speaking about and thinking about Kindness, I’ve learned a few things from the campuses and individuals who are thinking about Kindness in interesting, challenging, and meaningful ways. One of my favorite concepts that I share in workshops: Specificity drives meaning and action.
Think about the difference between receiving a post-it note with a generic compliment like, “You’re amazing!” versus the handmade card that details how you’ve been influential in someone’s life. One might bring a smile while the other moves you to tears. Why? Because meaningful Kindness is generated from the hard work of meaningful connections. It’s a bit like the difference between Nice and Kind: Nice is comfortable and convenient, while Kindness is challenging and conscious.
So, to celebrate THIS World Kindness Day, I challenge you to go a bit deeper than the Kindness quick wins of buying coffee for the person behind you or decorating your school mirrors with inspirational affirmations. Don’t get me wrong, I think all Kindness is magic because (as Aesop reminds us), “No act of Kindness is ever wasted.” So please don’t forego the coffee pay-it-forwards and the hallway decor. But let’s double down this year and have a Conscious Kindness Day by incorporating specificity into the mix in two ways:
- Let’s do something deeply meaningful for one person in our life.
- Let’s commit to something small, specific. and manageable that is ongoing.
SPECIFICITY DRIVES MEANING
While of course there can be tremendous meaning and impact created through those random acts of Kindness (we all know the stories of people who have received selflessness from a stranger when they needed it the most), I believe that the most connective kind of Kindness is predicated on understanding people deeply. Here are three prompts that are designed to be specific and progressively more personal. Choose just one or send all 3 in the form of a note, a text, a phone call, or an in-person chat!
- Did you know that your hugs are _____? They make me feel like a _____ wrapped up in a _____. They are even better than _____.
- Superheroes have costumes, but you don’t need a cape or mask to be ____. That time when you _____? Yeah, I remember thinking ______. Thank you for your bravery in this world.
- I admire you so much for your ______ and am constantly inspired when I think of you doing _____. The world needs way more ____ and you bring it. I am forever grateful for you because ______.
SPECIFICITY DRIVES ACTION
At CharacterStrong, we spend a LOT of time thinking about Habit Development. Why? 45% of our day is built on routine. 45% of our day is habitual. Nearly half our life is on autopilot. So we think it’s pretty important to get thoughtful about what goes in that 45%!
Wouldn’t it be cool if all of us had weekly habits of Kindness? If a part of our 45% was designed to be Kind?
The problem with Kindness is that the concept is really big. We have so many options to choose from, so it’s natural to default to what our culture tells us is “the way to practice Kindness.” It’s the stuff we see in the news and in the viral videos; the Kindness Week classics.
So, to break us out of the generic generosity mold, let’s get hyper specific using some key Kindness categories:
- Who is the Kindness going to? (i.e. Bus Drivers)
- What day(s) of the week? What time of day? (i.e. Every Monday at 2:30pm)
- Where does it most often take place? (i.e. At the Front Entrance of The School)
- What’s the measurable metric? (i.e. 3 Care Packages Delivered)
These questions help us commit to an ongoing practice instead of a one-off action. It helps us move away from a Kindness Day into a Kindness Life which, to me, has more potential for impact over the more low-hanging quick wins and clothespins.
So, this World Kindness Day, we at CharacterStrong challenge you to make it a conscious one. We Dare you to continue to practice some of the fan favorites that spread general joy and then see if you are up to the challenge of using specificity to drive deep meaning and relentless action. Every piece, small and big, helps us collectively Make Kindness Normal.
PS: Share with us your Conscious Kindness Commitment by tagging us on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter and we will send a few random winners some “Make Kindness Normal” gear! Here’s an example tweet:
I’m celebrating Kindness Day with @careacter. I commit to practicing Kindness in my school toward my fellow teachers every “thankful Thursday” by spending the first 2 minutes of class verbally celebrating another staff member by sharing why I admire them.
Houston Kraft is the co-founder of CharacterStrong. He is a professional speaker and kindness advocate who has spoken at over 600 events internationally. Student Body President in High School, Class President at Bowdoin College, Leadership Camp Staff for 14 years in Washington - he is a lifelong learner of character, culture, kindness, and leadership. He was featured in 2019 on BBQ Lays Potato Chips and his mom's lasting life lesson is "Hug like you mean it."