“What is social life if not the solving of social problems, behaving properly and pursuing aims acceptable to all?(It is not) sitting side by side and hearing someone else talk….”
-Maria Montessori, The Absorbent Mind
Sometimes I think the virtue of kindness is disappearing along with the likes of the cassette tape, the landline telephone, and video rental stores. As TV shows become ever more crude, music more crass, and video games and movies more gratuitously violent, their influence on children becomes stronger and more worrisome. Parents feel powerless to counteract these forces because it’s “the way kids act in the neighborhood.” Some parents feel that teaching kindness will make their child “soft” and more prone to being bullied.
Educator Maria Montessori dedicated a part of her curriculum to “Grace and Courtesy” skills, in part because her earliest students were children of immigrant factory workers from the rough and tumble streets of Rome. Grace and courtesy skills are still taught in Montessori training programs and are still included in the curriculum at Montessori schools today, including at our school — the Oneness-Family School.
At Oneness-Family School we teach students basic communication skills, such as using words to express feelings, listening to others express their feelings, making eye contact when speaking, saying “please,” “thank-you,” and “excuse me,” and introducing yourself to someone in a polite manner. However, kindness goes beyond these basic common courtesies that my mother taught me when I was in grade school.
Kindness is being mindful about the situation, needs, and feelings of another. The great author Elizabeth Bowen called kindness an “act of imagination in regard to another.” Learning kindness does not just “happen;” students need to learn the meaning of kindness just as they learn the meaning of other important vocabulary words and ideas. They must be shown examples through stories. And like anything else we want them to be good at, they have to practice it – through small skits and re-enactments, games and role-plays.
Having spent over 25 years in education and watched hundreds of children grow from toddlers to adults, I can confidently state that teaching children kindness will make them stronger, not weaker individuals. Equipping them with the power and ability to connect with others provides them with a basis for building strong relationships – and a skill cited over and over in every issue of Harvard Business Review.
Kindness – grace and courtesy — will build resiliency in our children and prepare them for success and a life well lived. Along the way, our society will become more harmonious, and even our traffic jams might be less fraught with frustration and impatience. Please see the practices suggested below to start us on our way!
~Do one act of kindness a day – ideally with your child participating or nearby. Unsolicited. Random. From the heart. Without any expectations.
~Ask someone how he or she is doing today. Look him or her in the eye. Pay full attention to the response. Notice how you are appreciated for asking and showing concern. This simple act of humanity can touch people in a very meaningful way. We never know the impact of our care and compassion.
~Pause with gratitude for all of the gifts in your life. Even if things aren’t going entirely as you wished, there is much to be grateful for. Say the words silently to yourself: “I am grateful for…” Complete the sentence/prayer in your own way.
~Think of someone in your past who affected you in a positive way – someone who helped inspire, encourage or challenge you. Hold that person for a few moments in your loving thoughts. Say thank you!
~Next time someone rudely cuts you off on the road, pause before reacting. Ask yourself what the circumstances must be for that person to act so thoughtlessly and disrespectfully. What state of stress or unhappiness must he or she be in? If you can, go one step further and send some “positive energy” so that the person may find some peace today.