The Quest for a Kinder, Gentler World

“America is never wholly herself unless she is engaged in high moral principle. We as a people have such a purpose today. It is to make kinder the face of the nation and gentler the face of the world.” —George H. Bush, Inauguration speech, January 20, 1989.

Almost 35 years ago, we were exhorted by an incoming president to rise to a higher purpose in this country. As we begin 2023, some may ask, where do we go from here? New beginnings often prompt a reflection of the recent past as we look to measure if we have made progress or taken steps back into a darker space. Certainly, as I write this article, we have no need to look further than the headlines that grip the nation. Racism, hate-mongering, the widening wealth gap between the classes, mass shootings, and inequities in systems that prevent individuals from getting health care, education, and employment are all chalked up as negatives. For Debbie Downers, these shortcomings can push some to throw up their hands and say, “There is nothing I can do about it. I am one against many!”

But there is something that all of us can do, and it can begin with simple acts of kindness in our families and in our communities. Often, these acts of kindness will cost nothing but some of our time. Sure, the Bill Gateses of the world will get media coverage when millions of dollars are donated to combat a deadly disease. But it is the quiet, unheralded simple acts of a caring human that can become transformative for both the giver and recipient of kindness.

It truly does not take much to make a small difference in someone’s day. Just to even respond in a courteous manner, with a thank you, please, and you’re welcome can take the edge off an encounter with a stranger who may be waiting in line at the license bureau or pumping gas at QuikTrip.

To begin the new year, consider incorporating some of the following acts of kindness into your day as you meet people or parent your children.

• Notice the sales associate’s name badge so that you can use their name when you thank them for locating an item you couldn’t find.

• Write a simple note of encouragement and slip it into your child’s lunch bag.

• Open and hold the door for the person immediately behind or ahead of you.

• Tell your child that you are proud of their perseverance with a challenging task.

• Pick up wayward trash from your neighbor’s lawn.

• Smile and wave to your mail carrier.

• Allow someone to go ahead of you in the grocery checkout who may only have one or two items.

• Leave the quarter in the Aldi cart for the next person.

• Ask a sick friend if you can pick up anything for them when you go to the store.

• Give your child a gentle touch and tell them you love them, even when they are trying your patience.

• Place a note of encouragement on your child’s bathroom mirror.

• Post a positive review OR hold off on a negative review.

• Share a piece of chocolate with a co-worker.

• Call someone who lives alone.

• Send a thank you note to a teacher.

• Donate gently worn clothes to a thrift shop.

• Make it a family affair to pick up trash in the park or at the playground.

• Graciously accept a compliment with a simple thank you.

• Watch “On the Road with Steve Hartman” with your child.

• RSVP for the party invitation you received or the class you registered for.

• Put away your phone and listen to your child as they tell you about their day.

• Engage with your child in their favorite activity.

If we want to encourage kindness in our children, we must be kind to them. Modeling kindness for a child is extremely powerful in counteracting the harshness that might have marked their beginnings. As Mother Teresa once said, “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” Imagine the exponential effect on our families and communities if this maxim were practiced daily.

According to the Mayo Clinic, performing random acts of kindness can greatly impact your attitude, outlook, and even your health. Practicing acts of kindness can “rewire your brain” to help you be more present to others while boosting your own mood. February 17 is the unofficial “Random Acts of Kindness Day.” But don’t worry if you miss it, you can begin sharing kindness on any day to make the world a kinder, gentler place.