“It is one of the most beautiful compensations of life that no man can sincerely try to help another without helping himself.” - Ralph Waldo Emerson
Years ago, I started offering kindness classes via email. I mean this was YEARS AGO, as in last century, 1994, to be precise. Like many people lucky enough to dial into it, I knew this Internet thing was a game-changer, allowing collaboration with people all over the planet.
A year earlier, in response to Johnny, an 11 year-old boy who most would say was a student of mine in the 5th grade class for which I was the “teacher” (I think I was more his student than he mine), I had suggested we have a “random acts of kindness” classroom activity.
Johnny had tried starting what he called “The Good News Newspaper,” a publication that would only report on the positive things that happened each day. For instance, instead of publicizing the one or two cars involved in an accident, Johnny’s newspaper would report on ALL the cars, and drivers inside them, that made it home safely each day.
As Johnny told me, “There are more good things happening than bad things. Why do the bad things get so much more publicity?”
It was a question I couldn’t answer. But it certainly got me thinking.
(Side note - A couple of years ago, Johnny’s and my kindness connection got written up as a chapter in the bestselling book “Angels on Earth.”)
The students took right to the idea of doing random good deeds, thus providing me a couple of life lessons - “Kindness is inherent to being human” and “The younger the person, the easier it is for them to tap into their inherent kindness.”
I don’t think of myself as particularly religious, but this latter lesson reminded me of something I was exposed to as a young child in Sunday School, that Jesus advised people to “be like little children.” The advice obviously had stuck with me, but I had new clarity on what it might mean.
Being kind is simple.
A year later, along with Melinda Shaw, my wife, and a group of dedicated parents, I had founded the Puget Sound Community School and managed to secure dial-up Internet accounts for all of our students, something that in 1994 was so novel that Newsweek magazine featured the school in a full page story and ITN, the Independent Television Network in England, sent a camera crew to Seattle to film a story about the fledgling school.
Buoyed by the willingness and engagement of the students around kind acts, I had the idea to expand these “kindness opportunities” to include adults. Having connected the students via email to Holocaust survivors in Europe, the idea of sending kindness lessons via email dawned on me.
I’ve been doing it ever since, although now I use a blog.
The most fundamental of these classes has always been one I call “The Practice of Kindness.” It consists of ten lessons, what I call themes, dispensed over ten weeks. Each week begins with a theme for the week posted to the blog on Sunday night.
Mid-week I send a supportive message of inspiration that usually includes a link to a website that supports that week’s theme. I conclude each theme on Sunday morning by posting a message of reflection about the concluding week’s theme.
The ten themes intend to build on each other, like concentric circles emerging from a core, the core being each individual participant. As such, the first theme is always “Do something kind for yourself,” the idea being that it is important to first take care of yourself before providing good deeds for others.
I encourage participants to summarize what they have done in response to each week’s theme, using the comments section of the blog. So doing, their stories provide additional inspiration for each other and connection to people all over the world engaged in the same activity. Frankly, it’s pretty darn incredible, so much so that the class has drawn the attention of the media, including bestselling authors Daniel Pink and Deepak Chopra who have blogged and/or tweeted about it.
The second theme is typically “Do something kind for someone you love” and the themes continue on from there (“Do something kind for a friend,” “Do something kid for an acquaintance,” “Do something kind for someone with whom you’ve lost touch,” etc).
As the weeks pass I ask participants to reflect on their experiences, specifically how completing each theme causes them to feel. Invariably, they discover that every kind act they complete is actually a kindness to themselves.
So aware, I conclude the class with the same theme with which it began, “Do something kind for yourself.” This time, however, the awareness of doing something kind for oneself INCLUDES doing something kind for anyone or anything. My hope is that the participants have a new understanding of kindness.
As Emerson also said: “No man can sincerely try to help another without helping himself.”