By Katherine Barfield, Writer and CMA Volunteer
On May 14, 2020, the Children’s Media Association in partnership with Good Work House hosted their latest “Virtual Fireside Chat.” They talked to Jaclyn Lindsey and Melissa Burmester, Co-Founders of kindness.org, about their new book titled, Be Kind: A Year of Kindness One Week at a Time. The book tells stories of kindness from people from all walks of life and challenges the reader with 52 prompts and learnings. Houston Kraft, Co-Founder of Character Strong, guided the discussion.
I went into the chat thinking I knew pretty much all there is to know about kindness, but I was wrong. Here are six things I learned:
- Micro-Kindnesses are “the 90%”
“There are three ways to ultimate success: The first way is to be kind. The second way is to be kind. The third way is to be kind.” – Fred Rogers
Houston asked Melissa and Jaclyn what led them to kindness. Melissa’s answer struck me. “I was showing up when it really mattered,” she said, “but I was getting it wrong in the day-to-day. I was getting a lot of the small things wrong, and what does that lead up to? That’s it, that’s your life. That’s 90% of it. Those bigger moments, the 10%, the holidays . . . that’s not who I want to be anymore.”
“We spend 90% of our time planning for the 10%, and 10% of our time working on the 90%,” Houston summarized. “It’s counterintuitive. Sometimes it takes a moment of heartbreak or hurt to realign us, to help shift the microactions that really add up to be the macro.”
- Kindness is an action and a choice
Houston asked Jaclyn and Melissa their definitions of the word kindness. “Sometimes” he said, “it helps me to differentiate through contrast—kindness, empathy, compassion, niceness. How do you distinguish between those, and why use the word ‘kindness’ in the first place?”
Melissa started: “Kindness, specifically, is special because it is an action. That means that for us [at Kindness.org], it’s something measurable, doable, something you can practice . . . . You feel empathy, but what do you do with that? What are the actions I need to start to take to change?”
Jaclyn added, “It’s a choice…you’re making that conscious choice to choose kindness when you feel empathy, and that’s what makes it incredibly potent.”
- Kindness is a muscle
Rebecca Reed, an educator from Orlando, read her excerpt from the book. She told the story of her student, Johanna, who was growing up in a very challenging environment and protected herself with a tough outer shell. Rebecca challenged her classroom’s culture of kindness. One day, a girl bumped into Johanna. Johanna puffed out her chest, but caught her teacher’s eye. Reminded of the kindness challenge, she said quietly: “Oh! I keep forgetting!”
“So much of kindness is remembering,” Houston acknowledged.
- Kindness gets “fluffified”
Houston said one of his biggest pet peeves is that the kindness that gets the most media coverage is “fluffified” kindness, like random acts of kindness. While random acts have their own merits, it greatly diminishes kindness in its many facets. The book uses kindness as an umbrella term that encompasses deeper virtues—honesty, clarity, self-forgiveness, compassion.
“It goes back to how you define kindness,” said Melissa. “From the scientific point, what does the research and science tell us? Kindness is an action with the intention to benefit, and that can look like so many things in so many circumstances.” There is deep, challenging stuff around kindness. It’s much deeper than simple, polite actions.
She referenced a story of kindness in the book. A woman’s vet delivered the bad news that her dog was terminally ill. While it was devastating to hear, the vet saved her a month of suffering and false-hope by being upfront with her. In the words of Brené Brown: “Clear is kind.”
Jaclyn added that they called for submissions from people from all walks of life with little constraint or guidance, and simply asked for a story of kindness they had received. “One thing that’s abundantly clear is that it’s very personal, everyone’s experience is very different.”
- People are misinformed about kindness
Melissa said that the most common question they get is “What is a kind act?”—a question that is even more relevant during this pandemic.
Jaclyn said she and Melissa knew that the “story and the human side aren’t going anywhere, but we wanted to couple it with the data side.” This way, people are without excuse to choose kindness. She recalled that when they provided the data and science behind kindness, a teacher responded that she was struck by the responses of her middle school boys. They needed the information in order to act. This was a hopeful moment; the barriers can be overcome.
- You don’t have to feel empathy to be kind
“Do not waste time bothering whether you ‘love’ your neighbor; act as if you did. As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him.” ~ C.S. Lewis
Jaclyn said people in their network have talked about wanting to be kind to people experiencing homelessness, even when they don’t feel empathy towards them. “We say it’s ok,” she offered. “When we think about removing barriers, I’d never want someone to say, ‘I can’t be kind because I’m not feeling empathy right now.’”
On the flip side, when you have empathy, it doesn’t always lead to kindness. The person doesn’t receive the benefit of empathy. Action is the most important piece. Melissa said they have been researching the question—“Can kindness lead to empathy?” If you take the action and remove the context, it shifts. But the interesting thing is that it can be with the intent to try and do good.”
Houston ended the talk, saying: “The world could use some hope right now. Could you close us out with a statement of hope?”
Melissa referenced the George Eliot quote, “It’s never too late to be what you might have been.” “That’s the power of kindness,” she adds, “it can rewrite the ending.”
Jaclyn thanked everyone for the messages of kindness expressed in the Zoom chat. “Every act matters . . . It’s never too late to start to try.”
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Melissa Burmester, co-founder and chief product officer of kindness.org, loves asking questions and building teams to solve complex problems. She is an author, keynote speaker, and start-up advisor. Throughout her career, she has produced content from eight different countries, conducted countless interviews, and amassed over 160 million video views. Working closely with kindness.org’s research team to study the impact of kindness, Melissa helps leverage their findings to create new programs that can be implemented in schools and workplaces. She avidly believes that kindness transcends difference. Outside of work, Melissa is passionate about volunteering at organizations focused on disaster relief, education, and ending childhood hunger. You can catch her hosting living room dance parties with her young daughter every Saturday morning.
Jaclyn Lindsey, co-founder and CEO of kindness.org, believes that kindness is humanity’s greatest asset. She’s taken her passion for people and love of leading and problem-solving to help launch Kindness.org – which leverages science, technology and a global network to bring kindness to the forefront of society. Jaclyn has spent over a decade in the nonprofit space, where she’s helped raise more than $100M for domestic and international missions. She sits on the board of Children in Conflict, and is an advisor to Creative Mint and Expectful. When not whiteboarding ways to use kindness for good, she loves adventuring around with her husband, Mancel, and son, Abel, and spending time with family, friends or strangers around a dinner table.
Kindness.org is a research-led nonprofit dedicated to educating and inspiring people to choose kindness. Through their research hub, Kindlab, they investigate the costs and benefits of kindness, and the role it can play in solving modern problems. With the help of more than 400 volunteer citizen scientists, and a global community representing 192 nations, they test academic findings in the real world. They then take their learnings and create products and programs to bring kindness to schools, communities, and workplaces around the world. Learn Kind, an inquiry-based learning framework for bringing kindness and social-emotional education to classrooms, was recently launched for this purpose. Work Kind serves a similar purpose for businesses, using action-based programming to maximize the well-being of organizations and the people who power them. All these efforts contribute to the vision of a world where kindness is at the forefront of human interaction.
ABOUT HOUSTON KRAFT
Houston is a speaker, curriculum developer, and kindness advocate who has spoken at over 600 schools or events internationally. In 2016, he co-founded CharacterStrong – curriculum and trainings that transform the way schools teach social-emotional learning, character education, and Kindness. To date, they have worked with over 2000 schools globally. In 2019, his face was featured on Lays BBQ chip bags as someone who helps “spread smiles.” He was once invited to play on the JV National Lasertag Team. His mom is his hero and her best life lesson is to “hug like you mean it.” Follow Houston on Twitter @houstonkraft and on Instagram @houstonkraft.
ABOUT CHILDREN’S MEDIA ASSOCIATION
Children’s Media Association (CMA) is the nonprofit community that connects the dots across all corners of the children’s industry. As makers, thinkers, and innovators, we believe that by learning and playing together, we strengthen ourselves, our community, and content for kids. With chapters in New York, LA, and San Francisco, and virtual members around the world, CMA is building the future of our industry. Follow Children’s Media Association on Twitter @cma and on Instagram @childrens_media_association.
ABOUT GOOD WORK HOUSE
Founded in Venice, California in June 2019 as a community of influencers, creators, artists, and entrepreneurs using their platforms for good, Good Work House is now a global community, open to anyone who’s interested in serving others and being a force for good in the world.
Our mission at Good Work House is “serving connection.” We create meaningful opportunities for people to connect deeply around serving others. We serve each other and we serve our communities. At Good Work House, all are welcome and everyone is valued. It’s a place where you can be yourself, let your guard down and be vulnerable.
We believe there’s no greater joy than the joy that comes from serving others alongside people you love and enjoy being with. Follow Good Work House on Twitter at @GoodWorkHouse and on Instagram @goodworkhouse.