Our Capacity for Kindness: Hooray For Monday!

By Aleta Margolis, Founder and President, Center for Inspired Teaching

Hooray for Monday is a weekly blog filled with questions, ideas, reflections, and actions we can all take to remodel the school experience for students. 

A dear friend and colleague of mine states her overarching professional goal as doing what she can to make the world a kinder place. As we navigate a media barrage of enormous problems and conflicts and grandiose proposals to solve or worsen them, this goal might seem simple, even small. But putting kindness into the world is one of the most worthwhile, and most ambitious, goals toward which we can strive.

Today, November 2, 2020, our country is deeply divided, the pandemic is getting worse, exacerbating inequities and racial injustice, and we are bracing for the outcome of one of the most contentious presidential elections in our country’s history. At this moment when so many people are rightfully angry and so much feels out of control, choosing kindness can seem counterintuitive, and sometimes even inappropriate.

When we feel exhausted or angry or powerless, it can feel like a burden, another item on our never-ending to do lists, to show kindness to someone else. However, showing kindness not only helps others, it helps us too.

According to Harvard Medical School, “We feel happier when we act in service to others.” In fact, engaging in acts of kindness can help us feel connected to one another during this divisive time, since we all want and need kindness, and we all have the capacity to offer it.

Last week I wrote about radical creativity. Showing kindness in this particular moment is indeed a much needed act of radical creativity.

So what does kindness look like?

Acts of kindness can be dramatic and newsworthy, as in the recent 5-way kidney swap in Houston. They can also be simple, small disruptions of patterns that make a difference. Sometimes kindness looks like not honking your horn at the driver in front of you who is struggling to parallel park. Or generously tipping your Postmates delivery person even if your dinner arrives late. Or listening attentively to your elderly parent telling you about the time they almost won the lottery (missed it by just one digit!) even though you’ve heard the story before.

Sometimes kindness looks like saying, “Cool new glasses!” or “I love your bright green sweater!” to a student, letting him know he is seen. Sometimes it’s saying “Thank you” when your boss gives you feedback on your teaching, showing her that you assume positive intent. Sometimes kindness is staying on the Zoom call for a few minutes after class ends to see if any students hang around and want to talk.

I had a mentor who taught me to smile at red lights, to choose appreciation for the opportunity to pause over frustration at being delayed. My mother taught me, as her mother had taught her, to go out of my way to talk to strangers, especially if they appear lonely. (To this day we have several lifelong family friends whom my mother or grandmother met on the bus heading across town or in the ladies’ room at one department store or another.) And then there’s my colleague who taught me, well, that making the world a kinder place is an awesome professional goal.

In this difficult moment when we may be searching for our strength – and when our students are watching us, as they always are – we have the power to be kind. While much may feel out of our control during this exhausting year, we can choose to be kind – to strangers, to those we know well, and to ourselves.

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