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What the World Needs Now…

January 06, 2011 By: NCVeditor Category: Community, Culture, Current Events, Debbie Ouellet

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It’s Cool to be Kind

by Debbie Ouellet

“What this world needs is a new kind of army the army of the kind.”

— Cleveland Amory, author

Search the headlines at the dawn of this new decade and you’ll find countless examples of everything that’s wrong in the world today. The ongoing conflict in Afghanistan. Genocide in Dafur. A deadly earthquake in Haiti. Recently, a friend commented, “The whole world’s gone to hell and there’s nothing we can do about it.” The acceptance in that comment troubled me. It’s not the first time I’ve heard the sentiment voiced.

Is there nothing we can do about it? The question stayed with me for some time. Let’s face it: the problems plastered all over the evening news are so big that whole governments can’t seem to find a way to correct them. What hope does a solitary person have in making a change for the better?

Like other “truth seekers,” I decided to go looking for an answer — and found its genesis in the most unlikely of places: a calendar of holidays and observances. In January and February alone, there are four days dedicated to acts of kindness: January 21st, Hugging Day; January 24th, Compliment Day; February 11th, Make a Friend Day; and February 17th, Random Acts of Kindness Day. At some point in history, a person or organization decided to lobby to dedicate one day each year to bettering the life of other human beings. How? By being kind to them. And, why? Because there is something we can do about the state of the world.

A Simple Premise: It’s a simple premise, but profound in its simplicity. The troubles of humanity are too large a problem for any one person to correct. However, each of us can make an impact — one kindness at a time. As Mother Theresa put it, “If you can’t feed a hundred people, then just feed one.” As I continued my search for answers, I found entire organizations and belief structures dedicated to kindness.

A Cornerstone of Spirituality: Metta (Pali meaning ‘loving kindness’) is one of the Four Perfect Virtues cultivated by the Buddhist practice. It is generosity toward all entities, without discrimination — a sincere wish for the happiness of all beings. As Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet said, “My religion is kindness.” The Talmud claims that “deeds of kindness are equal in weight to all the commandments.” It is one of the Seven Heavenly Virtues in the Catholic faith, described as “charity, compassion, friendship, and empathy without prejudice and for its own sake.” Confucius urged his followers to “recompense kindness with kindness.” I’m sure that if you were to dig deeply enough, you’d find that kindness is a cornerstone of spirituality in religions and belief values the world round.

The World Kindness Movement: The idea of a World Kindness Movement started in Tokyo in 1997 when the Small Kindness Movement of Japan brought together like-minded kindness movements from around the globe. They officially launched the World Kindness Movement in Singapore on November 18, 2000. Its mission is “to inspire individuals towards greater kindness and to connect nations to create a kinder world.” Countries involved in the movement include: Australia, Brazil, Canada, Dubai UAE, France, India, Italy, Japan, Nepal, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Nigeria, Scotland, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand, the United Kingdom and the United States.

The Random Acts of Kindness Foundation was established in 1995 as a resource for people committed to spreading kindness. They are the US delegate to the World Kindness Movement. The Kind Acts Network Association of BC is Canada’s delegate. In Australia, the organization is simply called Kindness. In Japan, it’s the Small Kindness Movement.

Pay it Forward: “Pay it Forward” is a simple concept that has been adopted by school systems and organizations around the world. When a good deed is done for another, it should always be without the expectation of a gain or reward. However, often the recipient of the good deed will ask how they might repay the giver. It is at this time that the person is asked to pay it forward. That is: find an opportunity to do a good deed for someone they meet in the future. The gesture doesn’t have to be something expensive or difficult, but it should have meaning to the receiver. The ideal scenario is to ask that they pay it forward to three people. Think about how quickly the idea spreads — how much more enriched the giver’s life becomes. Catherine Ryan Hyde in her fictional book Pay it Forward published in 2000, popularized the concept of Pay it Forward with school children. She later created the Pay it Forward Foundation which provides teachers with educational resources to promote the Pay it Forward movement within their school and community.

Each Link in the Chain: As I pondered the mandate of these organizations, it occurred to me: what would happen if kindness truly became a World Movement? Each of us is, after all, a link in the chain of humanity. If we concentrate on the well-being of one link at a time, eventually, the chain is mended, gains strength, becomes unbreakable.

My challenge to you is to consider the impact you can make in this world. Life presents opportunities daily to perform small acts of kindness to others. Grasp these opportunities. As author Leo Buscaglia wrote: “Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.” The experience will enrich you mentally and spiritually. And you’ll make a day in the life of someone else that much better. If the receiver of your kindness should choose to pay it forward, the ripple effect of one good deed could find its way around the world.

And, if a friend should turn to you and say, “The whole world’s gone to hell and there’s nothing we can do about it” — show them a kindness. Eventually, they’ll see how very wrong they are.

Cultural anthropologist, Margaret Mead once said, “Never doubt that a small group of committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever truly has.” Random Acts of Kindness, Compliment Day, Pay it Forward — opportunities abound for each of us to show kindness to another in need. It only takes the desire and determination to make a difference in our world. Because we can do something about it — one kindness at a time.

Author and poet Debbie Ouellet lives in Loretto, Ontario, Canada. Her children’s book How Robin Saved Spring (Henry Holt & Company, New York) was named “Book of the Month” in Cookie Magazine and on Amazon.ca for April 2009. Her teen novel, A Hero’s Worth (HIP Books, Toronto), second in the Dragon Speaker trilogy for reluctant readers was published in September 2009. She is the chair of the Vaughan Poets’ Circle and editor of their 2009 anthology Earth to the Moon. Debbie’s poetry, articles and short stories have been published in The Writers Journal, Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, Scholastic Education Publishing, Poetry Canada, About.Com Poetry Winter Anthology, NoD Magazine, Inscribed, Cicada, Cricket, Chirp, and chickaDEE Magazines, and in the children’s book, Animals on Parade.

(This article was originally published in Culture Unplugged, reprinted by permission.)

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