Teaching Kindness

We can't.

I recently heard someone say that empathy can't be taught, but it can be inspired.  If what we- the adults at school- mean by empathy is really just plain kindness than the same holds true for kindness. We can't teach children, or our peers, to be kind.  Rather, we must model it and in doing so we demonstrate to those around us the norms and understandings that guide our behaviors and interactions.

A few posts ago, I wrote of the power of Wonder, a book by R.J. Palacio.  The tagline of the book is "choose kind" and I found that simple, yet so compelling.  I wanted that message to stay with me so I asked an art class student to paint this picture on a wall in my office. I recently learned that the author of Wonder was appearing in northern New Jersey and I knew I had to go see her.   In her presentation, Ms. Palacio summarized her writing experience as well as the unexpected, and overwhelming response to the book.  She did not expect that thousands of people throughout the world would embrace the book and pledge to Choose Kind. And it was at the end of her speech, that Ms. Palacio said, "you can't teach empathy, but you can inspire it."

Recently at our school, a young man came to a tell another story about the power of kindness.  Addressing all of our students, he told the story of Rachel Scott, the first victim of the Columbine High School tragedy in 1999.  Prior to her death, Rachel wrote on the power of being kind. In her everyday life, Rachel was known as someone who stood up for others, treated everyone with respect, and loved life and those she shared it with. The assembly, known as Rachel's Challenge, focused not on Rachel's death but rather the inspiring messages that she left behind in her journals.  Rachel's family embraced these messages and have made it their mission to share them with the world.  Rachel wrote, "I have this theory that if one person can go out of their way to show compassion, than it can start a chain reaction of the same."  Through this program, and its related activities, our students have joined the millions of other school children that have been inspired to choose kindness.

Being kind isn't hard.  Whether the message comes from a popular book or a powerful assembly, we all have the capability of creating significant change in the world around us through acts of kindness.  As exemplified in the story below, when we commit acts of kindness we not only change the lives of others but also ourselves.  Just ask Justice Miller, one heck of a teammate and certainly a changed person.

Related Resources:
Rachel's Challenge Website

Previous Blog ("Choosing Kindness", August) Update:
Following the 60 Minutes program on mercy ships serving Africans suffering from cranio-facial disorders, a $20 million donation was made to pay for a second ship.