Preparing Kids for a Better World

I loved seeing all of the hype and excitement around the Wonder film premiere this week. And you know, all of this talk about kindness has me thinking.

It’s nice to be nice.

But how many of us are truly measuring our life success by the kindness we give? In fact, it feels a bit like being “nice” is viewed as a throwaway compliment. Have you ever asked someone about another person, and they say, “He’s nice…” And you wait for more. And by not hearing more, you think, well something is off there. Personally, I’ve even caught myself thinking, well that’s great, but they better be more than just nice…

I’m struck by something my friend, Chris, told me about his evening routine with his daughter. Every night they ask her, “How were you kind today? How were you brave today?”

I’m looking around and thinking the world could use a whole lot more empathy. What if we started asking ourselves and each other those questions at the end of every day? What if our days were measured by our goodness toward others?

I’m worried that school has become more about competition than learning. And as adults, we contribute to this problem. Not just with the systems we put in place but in what we choose to celebrate and where we place our focus.

I’m not saying that kids should (or should not) collect gold stars for kindness.  Rather, it would be beautiful if kids could train their minds to see the good and find opportunities to be a bit kinder than necessary. Because kindness is magic. It has the power to fill our hearts with joy – both as the receiver and the giver. In order to help kids along that journey, we as the adults must cultivate spaces that promote empathy.

The topic of kindness runs much deeper than being “nice.” And perhaps that’s why we want more when we hear that another person is nice. I’ve reviewed various definitions of the words nice and kind, and I found one subtle difference. In the definition of the word kind, I found the word “helpful.”

And sure, there are many ways to be helpful. But when we empathize with another person’s experience, and when we help in the way that they truly want or need help, that’s true kindness.

Sometimes, helping is sitting with someone in silence.

Sometimes, helping is listening.

Sometimes, helping is working through solutions.

Sometimes, helping is sharing your own struggles.

Sometimes, helping is giving your time or resources.

Sometimes, helping is standing up for others when they can’t stand up for themselves.

Sometimes, helping is writing a note or bringing someone coffee.

Sometimes, helping is sitting with someone at lunch who is sitting alone.

Sometimes, helping is reminding someone of what they are doing right.

Sometimes, helping is reminding someone that they don’t have to be perfect to be loved.

Sometimes, helping is asking how you are contributing to a problem.

Sometimes, helping is respecting a clear boundary.

The truth is there are a million ways to help. Helping is not, however, doing nothing. Doing nothing is not kindness. Being agreeable is not kindness.

Kindness is for the connectors and the do-ers. And we all have an innate desire to connect and to help. Perhaps you’ve lost your way, and you are tired. I’ve seen Dr. Amy Fast call this “compassion fatigue.” If so, please take a break. Take a day off if you can. As Jack Kormfield writes, “If your compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete.”

But listen up schools, more of our success should be measured in smiles, laughter, hugs, adventures, and a childhood preserved.

Let’s not prepare kids for the real world. Let’s prepare them for a better world.

And that better world starts with us.