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downloadDuring election night, and the days after, I was away from school. I was traveling from Florida to Ohio to attend a conference. And, regardless of political preference, we all witnessed that our country was divided. No matter if I was at the airport, in a taxi, at a conference, or waiting in line at Starbucks, there was something in the air. And, I found myself thinking, “I wish I was back at Park.”

As the days passed, my news feed was filled with even more divisiveness — the same divisiveness we all thought would go away after November 9th seemed to heighten and continue to raise the level of discourse.

But, in the midst of some of the bad behavior, I found myself looking for examples of kindness. I was looking for examples of people going out of their way to be welcoming, warm, and generous with their time, their homes and their lives. I began to ask people, “So, what makes you a kind person?” And the answers came back with, “Well, I’m not mean.” That didn’t sit well with me. 

In a morning meeting with students and faculty at Park, I scrapped my existing presentation and decided to just freestyle about kindness.

I wanted to impress upon the community that “the absence of meanness is not kindness.” I said, “Just because you don’t make fun of people or tease others. Just because you don’t trip people in the hallways or gossip. Just because you don’t make others feel bad — the absence of meanness is not kindness.”

Because, after all, the absence of meanness is just neutral. Kindness is an actual act of generosity, of welcoming, of outreach and of goodness. Kindness is not just an act, it’s an action.

It’s time we shifted away from the notion of kindness being an absence of meanness. Kindness must be the presence of good.

Mr. Vega, our Director of Technology, always asks three questions when encouraging others to make things (e.g., the world, our community, our home) better:

  • How do people feel when they spend time with you?
  • What do people learn when they have spent time with you?
  • What do you do to make things better?

We have all heard of “random acts of kindness” — things we do without any purpose of acknowledgement or appreciation or recognition. Keep doing those.

I’d also encourage you to engage in “intentional acts of kindness” — things we do because we know the impact of outreach. Some of that intention might be repairing hurt relationships. Intention may mean moving from neutral (e.g., I haven’t been mean to you, but I also haven’t been nice to you) into kindness. And, intention might mean recognizing the act(ion) of kindness in others. 

I’ll be honest — the act(ion) of kindness is not always easy. Even just in the few days, I’ve felt myself fall into bad habits. I’m committed to trying harder each day. 

So far, here’s what I’ve done:

  1. I wrote a note to faculty members who had been doing great things but who I have never said, “I notice you are doing a great thing.”
  2. I wrote a note to faculty members who I have been neutral towards with “I don’t recall ever saying anything kind to you. I am sorry. I will do better to be more actionably kind to you.”
  3. I wrote a note to faculty members who I had been mean to or been unkind to and sought forgiveness.

Here’s what I’m doing coming up:

  1. Creating small care packages and keeping them in my car to distribute to anyone who is asking for some assistance. The bags include: a pair of gloves, a few dollars, sanitary products, soap, toothbrush/paste, a kind note. 
  2. Sending notes to people who I take for granted — people who I am thankful for
  3. Purchasing or making thank you notes for others to use as we share kindness

What act(ion) of kindness can you make these next few days or weeks?

Peace and Park, 

Dr. T