Fortuitously, the publication of this article coincides with World Kindness Day — Nov. 13, 2013 — an event sponsored by the Random Act of Kindness Foundation (www.randomactsofkindness.org). Their website is one I have visited often as it publishes resources for educators looking to promote kindness in classrooms and schools, and who could argue with that as a worthy objective?
For this “lucky” occasion, the website provided a list of 332 ideas for spreading kindness — ideas as simple as sharing a hug, donating books to the library or carrying someone’s groceries. However, on review, the list suggested a serious question. Just when did we get out of the habit of being kind to one another?
I seem to remember when neighbors truly would go out of their way to help neighbors. Now, all too often, people think of themselves as too busy, too important or too good to extend a simple act of caring to another human being.
It’s very sad, and those of us who work with children see the results each and every day. Sometimes rude attitudes are just that: rud. But unkind behavior sometimes rises to a level far more sinister, far more persistent and far more damaging. Social bullying, a tag-team game of one-upsmanship, is pervasive among children, youth and adults in our society, and it is both mean and hurtful.
How can we get back in the habit of being kind? And, more importantly, what can we do to help our children understand the importance of promoting kindness. Well, call me Pollyanna if you like, but I tend to think one good place to start would be by promoting the use of simple, yet powerful habits that could best be termed good manners.
Why promote good manners? Well, first of all, good manners are not old-fashioned. Good manners get you noticed and in a good way. Good manners don’t cost a thing, but are invaluable. Good manners travel well and can be your ticket to wonderful friendships and partnerships. Good manners help you to look outside yourself and your own needs and instead focus your attention on others.
Good manners are little kindnesses, kindnesses that say I value you; kindnesses that say I recognize that I am no more important than you are; kindnesses that level the playing field; kindnesses that are inclusive; kindnesses that show respect. At this point, anyone who thinks we need more respect in this world, give a shout out for good manners.
Where should we start? I am a great believer in keeping it simple, so I’d like to suggest a few time-honored rules for human interaction. These rules will help your child begin to build a repertoire of good manners, habits that will stand the test of time and habits that promote kindness.
-- When you ask for something, say, “Please.”
-- When you receive something, say, “Thank you.”
-- Unless it is an emergency, don’t interrupt others who are speaking.
-- If you bump into someone say, “Excuse me.”
-- Unless you are giving a compliment, never comment on another person’s physical appearance.
-- Do not make fun of anyone for any reason. Teasing is a sign of weakness, yours, and not the victim’s.
OK, I can hear you talking. You are quite sure that everyone knows the importance of these simple courtesies, especially your children. Well, most teachers will tell you that, while they may have been taught the rules, many children and many adults seem to have a follow-through issue.
Stop somewhere this week and just listen to children or adults interacting. Be a fly on the wall, and take some mental notes. It is not only what children are doing when we are watching that matters, it is what they are doing all of the time. I would venture to say that you may discover that we could all use some practice. The sins of omission are easy to spot.
Somewhere along the way, I heard that it takes 28 days to develop a habit. In a quick review of readily accessible studies on the subject, the time required to develop automatic response from non-existent behavior was predicted to be somewhere between 18 days and five months. Bottom line, it takes time to train the brain, and it takes consistent repetition and consistent modeling. Take note, the children are watching.
Henry James, noted American author, said, “Three things in human life are important: the first is to be kind; the second is to be kind; and the third is to be kind.”
Remember, good manners are simple kindnesses, little gifts that we give one another. On this, the occasion of World Kindness Day, let’s commit to teaching our children the power of a simple change, using our best manners, all of the time, and with everyone we meet.
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