Change for the Children: Making Kindness a Habit

Over the past few days, I’ve struggled a lot not to be political in the wake of the Newtown tragedy. It’s been tough, because, as my husband tells me, I’m very passionate about certain things, and, in my eyes at least, there’s no room for compromise. So keeping my mouth shut can be a challenge for me.

But by keeping my mouth shut, I’ve heard some surprising stuff. I’ve learned a lot about the lack of care for the mentally ill. I heard our president say that we as a society needed to change. I heard a resounding silence from gun supporters. And most surprising of all, perhaps, I’ve heard many, many people saying we all need to be kinder to each other.

I could ask when we stopped being kind to each other, but I’ve found it’s much more effective to start at home base. When did I stop being kind? I was a very kind child, I think. I never wanted to hurt anyone’s feelings. When did that stop? When did I become an aggressive driver who’s willing to honk at other motorists for the slightest infringement, the irritable mother, the uncaring neighbor, the shopper who’s in too much of a rush to let someone cut in line?

Okay, so I’m not horrible. I’m not always irritable and pushy, but I’m much more likely to be that way than I was early on in life. The only thing I can figure is that as I’ve gotten older, unkindness has become a habit with me. So how do I cure this habit?

I think journalist Ann Curry, of all people, has given me the answer. If you are on Twitter, check out her twitter feed. She started out calling for everyone to commit themselves to 20 acts of kindness (#20acts) to honor the twenty first graders killed at Sandy Hook. Some of her followers suggested they expand this to include the adults killed trying to save the children (#26acts). It’s a wonderful idea, and for more reasons than I think Ms. Curry considered.

I believe you can become addicted to kindness. Think of the good feeling you get when you do something kind. Consider the impact of getting addicted to that feeling. How long does it take to form a habit? If you commit to performing 26, or even 20, acts of kindness, might it be possible that you would want to keep going? I’m hoping so. Judging by the number of positive responses Ms. Curry has garnered, I think she may have started a movement with some real power behind it, and if all those people form a habit for kindness because of her, she will really have accomplished something lasting.

Will a kindness habit cure the world’s problems? Probably not. But perhaps if enough people are more considerate and kinder because of Sandy Hook, more problems could be solved. Maybe we could learn to compromise and care a little more, and maybe fewer people will want the guns that are made to kill without mercy.

So far I’ve accomplished a rather unimpressive three acts of kindness. They weren’t things I wasn’t planning on doing anyway, but I tried to go a little beyond. I have plans for two more, and I’m watching for opportunities to act kindly on impulse. I think those acts might go the furthest toward accomplishing a real change in our society.