A few years ago there was a lot written about the Slow Food Movement. Reacting against the fast food industry and eating on the run, Slow Food proponents urged the need to savor real food – its flavor of course, but also the effort that brought the food to one’s plate. I’m not sure why it’s not talked about as much today – certainly Slow Food hasn’t so taken hold of our society we can move on to the next great social leap forward. But our zeitgeist is fickle and movements come and go. What I’ve been thinking lately is how the phenomenon crosses over to other areas of my life, most specifically thinking about personal interactions and how much they could benefit if only I would occasionally take five, stop and breathe.
As a middle school Principal, the pace of my work is hellacious– dousing out fires, chopping through to do lists, zipping through meetings. In the midst of that craziness are middle school children who, almost without exception, are in need of nurturing adult attention. When I am at my best and I take a moment to give a hug, share a story, pay a compliment, my kids are so appreciative. Afterwards, I always ask myself why I don’t take that moment more often. Kindness is free and generative. When I share an act of kindness I expand. It doesn’t deplete me; it feeds me. I don’t think I’m unique, religions uniformly stress it and research definitively validates it. Kindness is win-win.
Last week I learned that one of my students was struggling. When I heard about it over the weekend, I grimaced because just the previous day I had been short with her when she shared an academic struggle that she was facing. So I started Monday by bringing her into my office and chatting. I know how to do “mother”; I’m starting to think that I don’t do “mother” enough. I’m glad I came around to prioritizing some time for her, but it took too long for me to get there.
How can we learn to slam on the breaks from our way too busy, overcrowded lives – to experience the moments of human connectedness I believe is our calling? How can we bring enough awareness to our ‘day-to-day’ that we attend to what really matters? We can’t just rely on the kids — most of them do not self-advocate. They are waiting for our lead.
Here in Tucson we have help. Ben’s Bells is a local (and more and more becoming a national) treasure. It is an organization devoted entirely to kindness. More specifically, its mission is “to inspire, educate, and motivate people to realize the impact of intentional kindness, and to empower individuals to act according to that awareness, thereby strengthening ourselves, our relationships and our communities.”
In addition to it’s Kind Campus Program, students can volunteer to be part of the process of making the hundreds of bells that are later randomly distributed. PFFS students always love doing this work.
Middle school has quite a reputation as being a Lord of the Flies, survival of the fittest landscape. But actually kindness happens quite often – at least at PFFS and I suspect at other middle schools. Tweens’ dirty little secret is that they feel a huge sense of accomplishment when they think they have impacted someone else in a positive way and they actually want adult approval.
Just this week for example I have seen:
- kids coming to me to try to figure out a plan to keep our pet hamster safe in the event of a fire;
- making a special point of bringing me chocolate for Valentine’s Day;
- checking in with me when I seem a bit stressed;
- expressing sympathy for a peer’s perspective even though doing so likely cost him some social capital;
- privately coming to me to make sure that I gave the girls a turn at the new foosball game that the boys were monopolizing.
Today marks the last day of Random Act of Kindness Week. Do it! Tweet it #RAKweek2016. But beware – it’s habit forming!