Cyber Cheer

Spreading good cybercheer

Yahoo Internet Life Article

 

Random acts of kindness - now on the Net -
define Chuck Wall's caring and career

 

FOR CHUCK WALL, KINDNESS IS NOT JUST AN OBSESSION - IT'S A PROFESSION.  As the president of KINDNESS INC. [www.kindnessusa.org] and a professor of management and human relations at Bakersfield College in California, Wall promotes the idea every day. In 1993, Wall asked each student in one of his classes to commit what he called a "random act of senseless kindness. One student bathed and fed a stray collie, then posted a sign that helped the dog's owner reclaim the pet.  Another student distributed blankets for local homeless people.

Wall's assignment and its results caught the eye of a reporter, and Wall became a celebrity overnight, eventually making more than 300 television and radio appearances. In 1995, Congress proclaimed a National Random Acts of Kindness Week. But as Wall's idea lost its novelty, media attention faded. Now out of the spotlight, Wall has taken to the Internet to advance the cause of kindness.

The transition has not been easy. Wall is blind, unable to surf the Web without the help of his wife and JAWS software, which reads the text of a Web page aloud. "Turn off your monitor and try to navigate around a Web page and you'll have a sense of what it's like for someone who is blind to use the Internet," he says.

 

Wall speaks of the Internet not as a frustrated user, but as a disappointed visionary. This December marks the 30th anniversary of the White House Conference on Children, for which Wall scripted a presentation about life in the 21st century.  Wall, who holds a Ph.D. in educational administration and management, impressed president Richard Nixon and other conference attendees by describing a vision of networking much like today's Internet.

But today's Net in some ways falls short of Wall's early ideals. He had expected screens to be operated by touch and voice, for example. By contrast, he considers the keyboard and mouse to be nonintuitive input devices. "I'm looking forward to the day when the Internet is verbal," he says.

Despite the Net's limitations, Wall hopes that his site, designed by volunteer David Plivelich, will one day anchor an international network of sites about kindness. Already thousands of sites in multiple Web rings are devoted to the subject (see YAHOO! WEBRING [webring.org]), and many cite Wall as their inspiration. One site, THE GENEROSITY GAME [generosity.org], encourages visitors to do a good turn anonymously for a stranger. Another site, KINDNESS SEARCH-ENGINE [www3.bc.sympatico.ca/kindness], records stories of favors and suggests ways to help out a neighbor or friend.


For Wall, random acts of kindness are distinct from ordinary responsibilities.  "The idea isn't to do things you're already supposed to do, like helping around the house or washing the dishes," he says. "It's about spontaneous kindness - stopping to help someone cross the street, or saying thank you to a custodian who has never heard those words from you."  Wall says the Internet affords great opportunities for people to console those who need it, and to thank those who deserve it. "It's much easier to type up a quick thank-you e-mail than to write out a note, address it, stamp it, and walk it over to the mailbox," he says.

Since he doesn't read or type Braille, Wall has composed his recent books on kindness by dictating them. He hopes eventually to publish his writings online, where sighted and blind users will be able to read or listen to the text. His new book, Selling Lemonade for Free, is available at the site, as are kindness T-shirts, bumper stickers, and videos. All proceeds from the site's sales go toward Kindness Inc.'s nonprofit goodwill endeavors.

Although sales on the site have been slow, Kindness Inc. has used the proceeds to fund a free kindness curriculum and workbook for elementary school teachers, and to send underprivileged students to summer camp.


Since the famous "random act of kindness" assignment that brought him into the national spotlight, Wall has had a subtle change of heart. Instead of requiring students to complete the famous kindness homework project, Wall invites his classes to do it for extra credit. "You shouldn't have to force someone to do something nice," he says. "Kindness should happen because you can't bear to be without it."

 

(From Yahoo! Internet Life, December 2000 Special Issue)

 

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