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Father’s intention to practice more kindness

December 31, 2018

A father’s intention to practice more kindness

Recently, a Kindness Calendar arrived in my inbox. It was Thanksgiving weekend, when conversations in our home were about family and gratitude. I printed the one-page calendar, noting that each day of the month was a simple, suggested act of kindness, printed in a colorful square.

“December 1: Encourage more kindness. Share this calendar with others,” appeared in a red square. So, I taped the calendar to the bottom edge of the world map, which hangs on the wall in full view from our kitchen table. I mentioned the calendar during dinner and invited us, individually and as a family, to consider doing some of the listed actions.

Coincidentally, we had already planned a family act of kindness, which aligned with the second (green) square.

December 2:  Support a charity, cause or campaign you really care about. Gathered around our table, enjoying bowls of steaming, homemade, potato soup, daughter Zoe reflected, with enthusiasm, that we were two for two because we had participated in the 5K Hot Chocolate Run that morning – an annual fundraising event that raises awareness about the need to end domestic violence and relationship abuse.

Early successes helped build momentum and without much effort we were on the path to many acts of kindness that month, including Zoe leaving positive notes for others to find, and younger brother Adam offering spontaneous hugs to family members. My wife, Lori, and I were delighted with the rippling kindness.

Along the way I was inspired to learn more and visited the website of the organization that produced the calendar, www.actionforhappiness.org. The site includes calendars, classes and additional resources, including a two-minute video entitled ‘The Science of Kindness.’

I learned that kindness is considered an interpersonal skill that, not surprisingly, is developed through practice. Kindness – the quality of being friendly, considerate and generous – is linked to greater life satisfaction and lower stress. In short, being kind feels good and releases chemicals within the body that promote calmness, happiness, healing and lower blood pressure – for the person who acts with kindness, the person to whom kindness is offered and to people who witness an act of kindness.

All that goodness can result from simply engaging in one daily, random act of kindness! While this is compelling reason to engage in serial acts of kindness, I admit there are times when I am just not in the mood and don’t want to be bothered with acting kindly. It’s not that I ever want to be mean-spirited or disinterested, I just have my kindness button on pause, I rationalize.

This left me wondering, though, “What gets in the way of my desire to act kindly towards others, especially those I love most, as well as strangers and those whom I find challenging?” Feeling tired or stressed, are the usual culprits, yet I know I am capable of being kind when I experience those feelings.

Doing a bit more reading, a revelation awaited me in an article entitled, “A Kinder World Begins with YOU.” One message of the article is that it’s much easier to act kindly toward someone when we regularly act kindly toward ourselves, and conversely, when we rarely act with kindness toward ourselves it is more difficult to act kindly toward others. The wisdom encoded in this belief produced an Aha! Moment, for me – a moment when, despite the obvious ad profound nature of the message, and the fact that I am sure I have heard this before – I began to understand and accept the idea at a much deeper level.

The answer to my original question about what gets in the way of acting kindly toward others is really nested in the question of what gets in the way of me acting kindly toward myself. While I have some initial thoughts, that’s a question that warrants much more consideration.

In the meantime, our family continues to be inspired by the Kindness Calendar. Even Santa (actually it was Mrs. Claus) supported our family efforts by slipping into each Christmas stocking a tiny tin labeled Be Kind, which includes 18 cards with a prompt for an act of kindness.

Heading into the New Year, I decided to make kindness my central theme for 2019, when I will endeavor to frequently exercise my kindness muscles, including being more kind to myself so that I can be more kind to others. I’m feeling optimistic that the ripple effect of kindness in our family will spark more kindness for others too. Imagine the possibilities…including bumper stickers, too, which read:  Make America (more) Kind Again.

John Engel of Florence can be reached through his website fatherhoodjourney.com.

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