Where Have I Been?
I recently returned from the gorgeous State of Maine where I spent three very special days connecting with young people from grades 4 through 8. The programs presented were based on the schools’ choices from a list I supplied them. Requests for focusing on kindness came from more than one school. So I reworked those presentations to include more kindness. The fact that multiple schools had concerns about this topic threw me for a loop. Had core values degraded that much over the decades? It appeared they had, at least in the New England area.
Growing up in a generation where kindness and respect for others was expected of me, I found it rather disheartening to find that it was necessary to “teach” that core value outside of the home. Although kindness was part of my basic programs, I thought I needed to beef up my talk and come up with activities for the students that showed them why kindness really did matter and how they would benefit from showing kindness to others. Little did I know that was only the beginning.
Leaving on a Jet Plane
My programs were done. I boarded the jetBlue plane heading for New York, then on to Portland, Maine. A woman sat beside me on the first leg of my flight and we chatted about all sorts of things. When she asked about where I was going and what I was doing, I told her about the requests I had received and how I had changed my presentations. The look on her face astonished me. “I am so glad to see that someone other than me is focusing on kindness in the school system.” What was going on here? Apparently New England wasn’t the only place that was looking for ways to promote being kind to young people. This wonderful woman told me she was a kindergarten teacher in one of the cities just outside of Raleigh, NC. The lack of kindness in her classes over the last few years caused her to create a program for her kids where they focus on a different way to be kind each month. This floored me. Was I that out of touch? We continued our conversation through lunch at JFK Airport. Although we were on the same flight to Portland, our seats were not near each other. When we landed, she asked for my information. Perhaps we will work together to bring thoughtful and considerate treatment of others to the forefront in North Carolina schools. Who knows?
Showing Kindness Through Games
I was pleased to see that not everyone was unkind and ill-mannered. As a matter of fact, the gross majority of the kids (over 550) I presented to and interacted with were what I expected for children their age. Bullying with the younger ones is very real and I understood the need to continue to reiterate to these kids that being a kind person was the way to go. We discussed various ways to be kind that cost no money. We chatted about how they felt when others were unkind. Teachers were asked to group kids together who would not usually hang out with each other. Each team was given a topic and had to come up with a list of answers for their particular theme. They were trying to generate more answers than their competitors. There was no prize given to the winners. The point of this entire exercise was to show them that alone, they would not have come up with as many answers. Also, that people who are different from them have ideas that help the team to succeed.
Kind People Are My Kind Of People
In one of the eighth-grade classes, I asked each student to tell me how they had been kind to someone that day. Out of a class of 20 or so students, only two raised their hands. The others gawked at each other, embarrassment on their faces when they turned back to face me once again. Of course, my next question was, “How are you going to rectify the situation?”
The fourth- and fifth-graders told me that when they did do something kind for someone, they too felt good. We discussed how even a simple smile or hello could change someone’s mood. They spoke about how they were happy when they did simple things such as doing their chores before being asked. A 10-year-old said she would go home and straighten out the house so when her Mom came home, she wouldn’t have to do so much work. We chatted about how they felt when someone did something nice for them. We played. We talked. I read a passage from one of my books on differences. These kids understand. They simply need to be reminded sometimes, as do we adults.
Kindness mattered to those kids in Maine. The schools there are doing all they can to build kind people. I was honored to be able to bring that to light in my own way. We may seldom see the results of our kindness but every now and then, we are blessed with an affirmation that we do make a difference. That is enough for me!
Special thanks to Oak Hill Middle School, Geiger Elementary, Carrie Ricker School, and Tripp Middle School. Your welcoming arms were greatly appreciated. I look forward to my return visit!
Shine Your Light — Annie M