A Kindness Starter Kit (because the world needs more of it).
"Did you used to be a cheerleader in high school?" The question comes from one of the staff lunch tables, an unassuming aide on her lunch break.
Laughing, I shake my head and tell her no. "I actually didn’t like cheerleaders in high school." She looks at me with a mixture of uncertainty and shock. I think the laughter threw her off, like she doesn't know whether or not to believe me.
Her head tilts to the side in question. "Really? I absolutely thought you were. You're so..." she paused to choose her word, "perky." To give her some credit, I had just run down the hallway with a tape dispenser in one hand and a rainbow-colored “celebrate” sign in the other to the room where I had already filled up thirty cups with sparkling apple cider. I may have also just offered her a popsicle from a staff event I had hosted two days prior. Directly across from her is the brightly colored bulletin board I took claim over this year to fill with stars of staff birthdays and bubble wrap stress relief squares. I get it. She goes back to her lunch and I just smile, standing on the tallest chair I can find to hang the sign from the ceiling.
At work, I am the Sunshine Committee. I recognize everyone's birthdays with handmade candy packages, handwritten cards, and more enthusiasm than most adults would prefer I associate with their birthday. If someone is having a good day, or a bad day, or an in between day and just need a sprinkle of sunshine, people come to me. If they get engaged, get married, have a baby, win an award, do something awesome, need some recognition... I'm your girl. Since my first week at my job, I have brought the sunshine to the point that some people just refer to me as, "Sunshine."
Or, to be more clear, I've tried to bring the sunshine. To be the sunshine. But it can be hard to embody sunshine. Sunshine glows, radiates everything in its vicinity, and works at 100% all the time. There is no break for sunshine. Even behind clouds, sunshine still has to work to push through and bring light. People exist within the light, sometimes without the gratitude, but the sun keeps shining. The sun is expected. But I imagine that on some days, the sun must count the minutes until bedtime, exhausted. Wanting nothing more than to pour a glass of wine and lounge in sweatpants on the couch, happy to let her husband someone else make dinner.
I’m going to tell you a secret that’s not really a secret: it can be exhausting to be kind all the time. It can bring you to your knees, or to tears in some cases, when you are the person people look to to carry the weight and reflect the light back to them. In a job where I interact with anywhere between five to 2000 people in one day, I have to have my game face on. Since most of these humans are under the age of 18, I never know what they bring when they walk into my office or onto my campus. Is my face going to be the only one smiling at them today? Is my voice going to be the only one expressing care and understanding and gratitude for their presence?
Spreading kindness is a process, especially because kindness involves the expression of care, not just being polite. And while we would all love to be Maria from Sound of Music, meeting all we meet with patience and understanding, it’s not always as easy as singing “Do-Re-Me” and making curtains out of drapery.
That being said, there are a few steps that could be considered a Kindness Starter Kit:
Smile. Have you noticed that when someone smiles at you, it’s hard not to smile back? That is because of mirror neurons, part of your brain that simulates emotions that you see in others. You smile, they smile, you smile again. We’re all happier.
See something, say something. If you see a skill, strength, or talent in someone else, recognize them. Show them that you notice. This can also be something a little more on the surface, like it you love their handwriting or their shoes or their smile. Let them know.
Just like More Love Letters encourages, send a love letter to someone. Thank them for something they did. Recognize something you noticed. Tell them you’re grateful that they are in your life.
Be kind to yourself. Look at yourself in the mirror and tell your reflection something you love about yourself. It’s great practice for being to kind to others and it lets you hear good things too.
Do the little things. Take a meal to a friend who is sick or someone who just had a baby. Send your mom flowers for no reason. Share a book with a friend who you think might love it. Stop on the way home from work and pick up your husband’s favorite ice cream as a post-dinner surprise. Buy coffee for the person behind you in line. Sometimes actions speak louder than words and it could start a chain of paying it forward.
Kindness is really just showing that you care about someone else’s well-being, whether you know that person well or not. Bring the sunshine with you to interactions with other people. Bring them joy and make them feel seen. And on days when it’s hard, when you feel torn down yourself, know that kindness is not a one-and-done. It’s a daily practice, and you can keep working on it tomorrow. You got this.