Last December, the New York Times published an article called “Can Kindness Be Taught.” The author, Richard Schiffman, reached out to me while doing his research for the article, having heard about my work promoting kindness in schools and beyond.
The day the article came out he emailed me to say:
“Thanks so much for the interview, Andy. I had quoted you at the end and talked about your program. Sadly it was cut out in the edit. But I do appreciate the chance to speak to you.”
That was a very kind thing for him to do.
One thing I told him is that I think kindness is natural to human beings, meaning it not so much needs to be taught as it needs to be modeled. Think of kindness as being like a muscle — if it’s not exercised it gets weak. And if it is exercised, it gets stronger.
I also said that kindness is a byproduct of being in environments where people feel safe and respected. In such settings, we can allow our true and natural selves to come forward. We feel safe being vulnerable, and it is normal to want to help others.
This is one of the simple premises of the middle & high school I co-founded in 1994 with Melinda Shaw, my wife, and a dedicated group of parents and students. Called Puget Sound Community School (PSCS) and located in the Chinatown-International District in the heart of Seattle, the school focuses on having its students feel respected for who they are right now.
I stepped down from my position as school director in June to pursue other opportunities, specifically those that help promote my belief that there is more kindness taking place in the world than we recognize. I think it’s very important that this message be shared widely right now.
Over the years at PSCS, I regularly offered kindness “classes,” which may sound contradictory to some of what I said above. Really, though, these classes were more about pointing young people inward, to helping them recognize their natural propensity to helping others.
They never were really about “teaching” kindness.
Several years ago I was interviewed for an article on this same concept, the idea of kindness being taught, for the Gulf News in Dubai. The resulting article is one of the best pieces I’ve read that explains what I mean.
In it, I am quoted:
“When we are kind, we begin to notice the kindness that surrounds us. To speak metaphorically, exercising one’s ‘kindness muscle’ helps us see more kindness. Seeing more kindness, we value it more. Valuing it more, we practice it more. In this way, kindness can be spread.”
Last month, I was asked by the creator of a new app called Unifyre to create “kindness challenges” for interested users. I really like this idea of merging technology with positivity as a way to remind people how easy it is to do good things.
The more ways we can get people to exercise their “kindness muscles,” the more people we get who are tuned in to the positive things going on around us. I think this is one of the keys to not just balancing out the negativity and polarization plaguing us these days, it’s a path to eliminating it.
And we get that much closer to world peace.