Kindness has been in the news a lot lately.
Who doesn't love the "be kind" message? It feels good to do good. Intuitively, we know kindness makes our communities stronger. Discovering that it also better prepares our children for a meaningful life, reduces stress, and heightens emotional bonding just makes it better.
But we need to go beyond sharing kindness in our news feeds or packing our birthdays with 30-something acts of kindness.
We need to make kindness an unavoidable part of family life. As indispensable as brushing teeth.
In short, we need to practice.
I've mentioned before that my own family's commitment to compassion waxes and wanes a bit. I'm okay with that. Energy waxes and wanes a bit. Our time commitment to various hobbies and activities waxes and wanes.
Our practice of kindness pulls us back.
My family of five has engaged in a weekly kindness practice for nearly five years, through toddlerhood, the birth of our third baby, and a major relocation.
Some days, I find myself embarrassed talking about the things my family does; the everyday acts of kindness we take on are often so small.
We have not radically transformed our lives. We have not forsaken all consumer practices for a life of unabashed generosity. We don’t travel the country in search of need, though there are days when I imagine these things for us.
Instead, we read books and engage in conversations about the important ideas we find in them. We listen to the needs of our friends and neighbors and do what we can to meet them.
Last week we committed time to rehabilitating a pet that otherwise wouldn't have made it, and reflected together about why this was important.
This week we are planting seeds that will ultimately feed the hungry in our community.
And daily we reflect together. We wonder about the experiences of others. We talk about kind acts we wish we had done or would like to do. We talk about how we’d like to shape the world.
These small things seem too meager in the face of the great need that exists in the world. There are mouths to feed, shelters to build, and freedoms to defend.
Some days all that we aren’t doing breaks my heart.
But as Hale says, I will not refuse to do the something I can do, simply because I cannot do everything.
So we practice. Each week. Each day.
Our big-hearted conversations and intentional acts of kindness have shaped the way my girls engage with their world.
When they notice a problem, they do not wait for someone else to fix it. They enjoy stepping in with their own solutions – sometimes for better or worse, but hey, they’re learning! They know how to ask big questions, how to make earnest observations, and how to walk in the shoes of another.
Of course, they are still kids. They bicker and struggle and experiment with how many chocolate eggs they can sneak before I notice.
They are also kids who remind me if a week has gone by without an act of kindness. They are kids who ask if we can leave cookies in the mailbox for our mail carrier or write a letter to Sea World with the hope of saving killer whales.
As they and their three-year-old brother grow, our family hopes to take on bigger volunteer projects. I expect – and research suggests – they will grow into adults with the desire to make a difference even after they begin to recognize how very big some of the world’s problems are.
Join us! Nurturing an intentional, everyday kindness practice of your own.
Doing Good Together™ has created the Big-Hearted Families™ program to make it easier than ever to get started.