Kindness Craze

Kindness craze

by Elizabeth Barker

Americans have special days to laud everything from our flag to a groundhog's shadow. Now, thanks to Congress, we have something else to celebrate–kindness.

That's right. Today is the first National Random Acts of Kindness Day.

A couple of years ago, few had heard of random kindness; if they had, they had probably forgotten.

Then, in October 1993, Bakersfield College professor Chuck Wall told his human relations class to go out and commit a random act of senseless kindness and write an essay on it.

The students turned the assignment into a bumper sticker campaign that soon had national media attention, including appearances for Wall on "The Crusaders" and "The Oprah Winfrey Show."

"At the time, we were literally flooded with telephone calls and letters," said Wall, who has a full schedule of kindness speaking events. "Even now, not a day goes by that we don't get at least one."

The concept of impromptu, unrewarded good deeds started in 1982 when San Francisco Bay-area peace activist Anne Herbert scribbled "Practice random kindness and senseless acts of goodness" on a cafe placemat.

Since then, the phrase has inspired everything from books to Wall's bumper stickers and other memorabilia, which say, "Today, I Will Commit One Random Act of Senseless KINDNESS, Will You?"

"The bumper stickers' success is really something of a commentary on our society," Wall said. "People are just so sick of all the hate and violence in the world that they're looking for anything that would make life just a little bit better.

"And it doesn't have to be a huge thing that costs a lot of money, it can just be one small, considerate act," he said. Wall, who now has random kindness as part of his curriculum, gave some examples from this semester's class:

§         A woman had a friend who needed to attend a funeral, but was hesitant about leaving her home unattended. The woman offered to housesit. Knowing her grieving friend had little time and energy, the woman cleaned the house and prepared dinner by the time her friend got home.

 

§         A few students had married friends who never got to be alone with their spouses because they had children, so the students gave their friends a free night of baby-sitting so they could go out. One student even lent a couple her family's cottage in Pismo Beach for the weekend.

 

§         A student saw an elderly couple struggling to put their groceries in a car and stopped to help them.

"That one was interesting because the elderly couple at first were reluctant to accept the student's help," Wall said. "This total stranger walks up to you for no reason, (and) even if they look harmless, you have to think about what they're going to want in return."

Once the student explained, the couple accepted.

"We come across that a lot," Wall said. "It's so sad that violence has caused our society to become so suspicious that we're not even willing to accept a kindness."

But people are starting to accept. Since that fateful first assignment in 1993, Wall has seen the kindness movement skyrocket.

Using Wall's help, a Florida community college professor started the Kindness Institute at Edison Community College. Community leaders in that state, and in many others, are pushing their legislatures for a statewide kindness day.

Here in Bakersfield, Wall and others have formed the Kindness Foundation, a nonprofit organization that distributes the proceeds from kindness memorabilia.

They also are working with Los Angeles composer Robie Lester Eccleston and local puppeteer Linda Stroud on a video to teach kindergarten through third-graders the concept of kindness. The video includes the song, "A Random Act of Kindness."

"I don't like to be credited with all that's going on; a lot of people are involved," Wall said. "If anyone shoud be credited, it's Anne Herbert for thinking of the idea and the thousands who have kept it going by committing one random act of senseless kindness every single day."

Reprinted with the permission of The Bakersfield Californian


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