“Human kindness has never weakened the stamina or softened the fiber of a free people. A nation does not have to be cruel to be tough.” – Franklin D. Roosevelt
“And if you try a little kindness, then you’ll overlook the blindness of narrow-minded people on the narrow-minded streets.” – Glen Campbell, “Try a Little Kindness”
In the past week or so, we’ve celebrated love (Valentine’s Day) and both Lincoln and Washington (Presidents Day), but there’s a holiday you might have missed that is just as important, especially this year. National Random Acts of Kindness Day was Feb. 17, the culmination of Random Acts of Kindness Week.
In the past year, our presidential campaign, election and first month of a new administration in Washington have divided the country in a way that we haven’t seen in decades. Unlike the sentiment in the FDR quote, our new president has seemed a bit cruel and unnecessarily tough on everyone from Nordstrom to Australia to the media. But are the rest of us truly much better?
Put another way, what kind of person are you? Or, rather, what kind of kind person are you? That’s a question I ask of myself every day I walk in downtown Chicago, typically hurrying past the homeless man holding the “Hungry as ****” sign and the struggling-to-survive, shivering woman seated on the sidewalk with a blanket wrapped around her and her cat. I don’t always walk on by without dropping some money in the cup, but I do it often enough that I question how kind I really am.
The Jan. 1 edition of Parade magazine proposes that we make 2017 the Year of Being Kind. It quotes a poll by Kindness USA that “Only 25 percent of Americans believe we’re living in a kind society.” I believe it’s time to change that perception by changing our focus. We don’t need to be the “narrow-minded people” in the Glen Campbell song; we can be accepting, loving people who make a difference.
There’s even science behind the benefits of kindness. Quoting randomactsofkindness.org, “The positive effects of kindness are experienced in the brain of everyone who witnessed the act, improving their mood and making them significantly more likely to ‘pay it forward.’ This means one good deed in a crowded area can create a domino effect and improve the day of dozens of people!”
Woodstock already knows this. When my wife and I first visited here years ago and walked through the middle of the Square, a perfect stranger said hello to us. We said hello back and began to seriously think that this welcoming community might be the best place to put down roots. It was a kind word that made the difference.
In my opinion, Woodstock should follow the lead of Anaheim, Calif. Anaheim’s municipal website says it’s the “City of Kindness,” and it’s not just a slogan. The inspiration came when Edward and Karine Jalevsky lost their daughter Natasha in a traffic accident a number of years ago. Natasha had written and drawn a number of items on the importance of kindness, and her parents wanted that “Make Kindness Contagious” idea to be a tribute to her.
In 2011, Mayor Tom Tait launched a “Hi Neighbor” initiative to encourage neighbors to get to know each other. In 2013, Mayor Tait and the Anaheim Elementary School District launched a “Million Acts of Kindness” initiative, with students completing that amazing total by 2015, the same year the Dalai Lama came to Anaheim to celebrate his 80th birthday. He wasn’t there for Disneyland; he wanted to be somewhere that acts of kindness aren’t rare or random.
Need some kindness ideas? Help people carry their shopping bags. Give up your seat on the train. Pick up garbage that’s blown into your neighbor’s yard. Offer to watch your neighbor’s home while they’re out of town. Those are just a start; check out kindness.org for more. Or read the new book “Chicken Soup for the Soul: Random Acts of Kindness” by Amy Newmark, for more than 100 stories of “compassion and paying it forward.” Or, even better, ask Woodstock City Council members — those currently serving and those who want to — whether they’d support making our city McHenry County’s first “City of Kindness,” reaching out to Anaheim and elsewhere for guidance. I, for one, think that’s a domino effect worth embracing.
Paul Lockwood is an occasional community theater actor, frequent dramatic reader, active Grace Lutheran Church and Toastmasters member, and past president of TownSquare Players. He’s RFP Manager for The Vitality Group (Chicago) and has lived in Woodstock for 16 years with his wife, Diane.