People like you are needed on this continent to take us to where we should be. Keep it up man!
"Perhaps we're too embarrassed to change or too frightened of the consequences of showing that we actually care. But why not risk it anyway? BEGIN TODAY! Carry out an act of kindness, with no expectation of reward or punishment; safe in the knowledge that one day, someone, somewhere, might do the same for you."
A few years ago, I was invited to participate on a radio panel of international development specialists to discuss the subject of Volunteerism with a smart group of young Ghanaian students called the Curious Minds. Prior to going on air, we had some time to chat and the students were particularly impressed that I had gone to America and become so rich that I could afford to be a “Volunteer.” I shared my American experiences with them, which cleared up their false assumptions and released me from being hoisted onto an undeserved pedestal. They realized that kindness and volunteerism had nothing at all to do with wealth and material possessions. I was thrilled to see how quickly they started counting things they had done in the past that would qualify as a voluntary act of kindness. The Curious Minds became absorbed in this new idea and their broad smiles and twinkling eyes revealed an AHA moment!
The studio became abuzz with their recall, and a competitive exchange of their past acts of kindness. One young man recounted with pride that, whenever he visited his terminally ill grandfather in their village, he felt extremely “grown up” as he fetched water or handfed the old man whose love always made him feel taller. He said that he felt even more important when this ailing grandfather laughed at his silly jokes. What a lesson for them, and for me too. At its core, what we do when we are kind to others is validate their right to membership in the human race. We are also recognizing that a roll of the dice in a different direction could reverse our good fortune, and “There but for the grace of God, go I.”
The happy exchange of acts of kindness made the radio program incredibly wonderful and many calls came in that reflected the heartfelt response of the audience. Their lives had changed, as had mine and the other members on the panel. I was very relieved to get off the pedestal and be on an equal footing. That small shift in perspective struck me as incredibly powerful and still makes me smile.
It is good to see young people being taught to appreciate kindness as a way of life. I recently heard about a school in North Carolina with an interesting approach to teaching a class of six year old students about the value of kindness. A donor gave $4,000 to the class to assist in this experiment whereby each student would be given a $20 bill that they could not spend on themselves. The students must pay it forward by giving the money to someone in need or to a specific program of their choosing. In class, they would discuss why they chose their specific charity and their own feelings after giving the money away. There is a saying that people will forget what you said, they will forget what you did, but they will never forget how you made them feel. There is no substitute for validation – of our individual selves, or of one another.
Kindness is a human impulse that can heal others through simple gestures such as praise or compassion. Kind words build self-esteem and kindness invites the other person to enter on equal footing and without judgment. Kind gestures have helped sustain our survival through the ages and the choices are infinite – we can plant seeds of kindness, pay it forward, or give anonymously without expectation. Just when you think you have helped someone else, you discover that you got the better end of the deal! Today, volunteers of all stripes give their time, resources, and even their organs to benefit those in need. Even the field of economics is exploring this issue through the study of Moral Economics, dealing with questions of poverty, wealth, and wellbeing. The McKeever Institute has taken on the debate to explore the Relation of Some Economic Theories to Various Moral Perspectives.
According to Barry K. Weinhold, Ph.D., co-author of Breaking Free of the Co-Dependency Trap, kindness is contagious and healthy, and we should spread it around generously. Researchers from the new field of psycho-neuro-immunology have found that kind thoughts, words and deeds can heal your body, promote wellness and have a positive effect on the immune system. Resistance to the common cold is significantly increased because kind acts and thoughts release endorphins, with health benefits similar to those achieved from exercise programs.
Hebrews chapter 13 verse 2 says “Don't forget to show hospitality to strangers, for in doing so, some have entertained angels without knowing it.” I love the imagery of showing hospitality to an angel. The Bible calls us to put one another first because, whenever we make room for another person, God raises us to new heights. Then there is the story of Prince Gautama whose quest to understand why he was born rich while surrounded by a sea of poverty, reflects the beauty of one person’s humanity – the recognition that, in spite of the appearance of material circumstances, he was bound by the seed of buddhahood to everyone else outside the palace gates. The Dalai Lama said, “My religion is kindness,” and the famous writer, William Wordsworth wrote that the best portion of a good man's life are his little, nameless, remembered acts of kindness.
Before he founded the Johns Hopkins Division of Gynecologic Oncology in 1895, Dr. Howard Kelly was a poor farm boy who encountered an act of kindness that gave him an opportunity to repay his boyhood benefactor. Here’s Dr. Kelly’s story ….
One day, a poor boy who was selling goods from door to door to pay his way through school, found he had only one dime and he was hungry. He decided he would ask for a meal at the next house. When a lovely young woman opened the door, he lost his nerve. Instead of a meal, he asked for a drink of water. She thought he looked hungry so she brought him a large glass of milk. He drank it slowly, and then asked, "How much do I owe you?" "You don't owe me anything," she replied. "Mother has taught us never to accept pay for a kindness." He said, "Then I thank you from my heart." As Howard Kelly left that house, he not only felt stronger physically, but his faith in God and man was renewed.
Many years later that young woman became critically ill with a rare disease that baffled the local doctors and she was sent to the big city for further consultations. Among the specialists was Dr. Howard Kelly, who, upon hearing the lady’s name and the name of her town, remembered the kind girl from his past. Dressed in his doctor's gown, he went down the hall to her room and recognized her at once.
Dr. Kelly requested the business office to send the final bill to him for approval before delivering it to her room. The patient was afraid to open the envelope because she knew it would take the rest of her life to pay it off. Then something caught her attention on the side of the bill and she saw the words, "Paid in full with one glass of milk” signed by Dr. Howard Kelly.
The concept of forming a group specifically to spread kindness is a relatively new phenomenon. In 1997, Dr. Wataru Mori, a physician in Tokyo, gathered like-minded people to discuss ways to create a kinder world. Dr. Mori and his group envisioned that a more compassionate and peaceful world could be achieved if a critical mass of acts of kindness was ignited. The Small Kindness Movement that started in Japan 12 years ago continues to spread globally, with branches in Canada, Brazil, Italy, Thailand, United Arab Emirates, the Netherlands, and Nigeria, just to name a few countries.
The founders of the Small Kindness Movement acknowledge the fundamental importance of simple human kindness as a basic condition for living a satisfying and meaningful life. Through the individual networks in each country and the global network, they pledge to build a kinder, more compassionate world. Member-countries undertake autonomous projects that respond to their local needs, and they also participate collectively in alleviating some of the global challenges such as the Katrina and Tsunami disasters.
In November 2000, the Singapore Kindness Movement hosted the Third Conference of the World Kindness Movement. Representatives from ASEAN countries as well as those from Italy, Australia, Canada, Japan, South Korea, Scotland, Thailand and the United States attended the event.
The Pan-African Reconciliation Centre in Nigeria is the first Kindness society in Africa and an example worth emulating by other countries on the continent. The Centre has adopted the principles of the World Kindness Movement and has been teaching kindergarten children through games, role plays and little gift sharing. Youth camps are also organized for older students in primary and secondary schools to teach leadership skills similar to the Red Cross. Leadership training workshops are also organized for university students from several Nigerian states.
It would be wonderful to learn in the future that some of you, our readers in Africa and in the Diaspora, are sowing seeds of kindness in your communities.
Sweet milk of human kindness…taste and see…
Ms. Adjoa Acquaah-Harrison is a strategic planning and development consultant, a nonprofit fundraising executive, and a freelance writer. She is also the founder of Wingspan International U.S.A. and resides in Lexington, Massachusetts.