You should know JACK!

When I started speaking to more classrooms and schools about the #imkinderthanthat movement I wanted to come up with an acronym that would help the students recognize when they might not be making the kindest choices and change the outcome (hence, becoming “kinder than that”). For me, the best thing about this movement has been the acute awareness that I have developed in regards to my thoughts/behavior and my ability to choose the kindest path. Saying “I’m kinder than that” has changed my life and I can only imagine how much different it might have been if I would have learned this saying in elementary school, forty years ago. To be fair to my parents, they always taught me to be accepting and kind to others, but I feel like this mantra takes it to another level because it makes you truly own your kindness (and unkindness).

The acronym that I came up with is JACK. I figured that everyone knows someone named Jack, whether personally or in a story/movie; Jack and the Beanstalk, Jack Sprat, Jack Jack from the Incredibles, Jack Black…you catch my drift. Hopefully it will stick. Here is how it breaks down:

J – Judgement. We all make judgements, it is a fact of life. We use judgements to determine if a situation is safe or not. We use them to decide who we do and don’t want to have relationships with. Many of us choose how we present ourselves based on our own or other people’s judgements. Don’t forget, you can judge yourself as well (and that is generally not helpful to your self-esteem and how you treat others). But here’s the thing about judgements…they can hinder us from seeing what is real, particularly when it comes to other people (and ourselves). I could tell you a million stories about how I misjudged someone or something in my life. Had I just taken the time to be “kinder than that” I would have seen things much clearer.

A – Awareness.  Becoming more aware of when we are making judgements about others (and ourselves) is the first step in being kinder. When you see someone for the first time you are dissecting them, whether you realize it or not. What they look like, the clothes that they are wearing, how they talk, their general demeanor…you know, the whole package. What if you took the judgement out of these interactions (with the exception of a potentially dangerous situation)? You would start to really “see” people for who they truly are…not what your judgements tell you to believe. This also goes for yourself…stop judging and start seeing all of your amazing qualities.

This is the “aha moment” where we stop and say “I’m kinder than that”.

C – Compliment/Compassion (take your pick). Once you become cognizant of the fact that you are making these judgements you can start changing your negative behavior. Taking any unhelpful judgement that you make and turning it into a compliment is the fastest way to turn your mindset around. For example; if I find myself having a negative thought about someone or making an unfounded judgement I immediately find something positive about the person. It could be their smile, the sound of their voice, or something that they might be wearing (I know that is superficial, but it works)…really anything that replaces the judgement with kindness. I do this with myself as well, as I can be my own worst enemy. Looking in the mirror and finding what you like about yourself instead of immediately criticizing is the first step on the road to self-acceptance.

The other thing that you can do is to put yourself in the other person’s shoes and show some compassion. I am a very impatient person by nature…it’s always go, go, go. If someone is holding me up, I tend to react negatively and not show my kindest self. Since becoming more aware of my judgements I have started to really consider the person that is “annoying me”. Contemplating the reasons why people do what they do can help us develop empathy and compassion. This in turn makes life a whole lot easier to navigate.

K – Kindness. The result of these steps is simply kindness. When you become aware of the judgements that you are making, suddenly compliments come naturally, you find yourself empathizing with people, you’re more accepting of things that you can’t control, impatience is more manageable (at least in my case), and life becomes much more fulfilling. When kindness becomes your default, you will feel yourself becoming more compassionate, thoughtful, generous… “kinder than that”.

There you have it…JACK! Hopefully this acronym helps ALL of you on your journey to be kind!

What DON’T we see?

I recently spoke to a group of 8th grade girls about the #imkinderthanthat movement. The focus of the discussion was about judgment and not only being kind to others, but also being kind to yourself. The pressure on young girls and boys these days can be overwhelming and with social media playing a huge role in their lives I thought it was important to impart some hard-earned wisdom about judging others and self-love.

I gave the girls a worksheet with four questions. What do people see when they look at me? What DON’T people see when they look at me? How can I be “kinder than that” to others? How can I be “kinder than that” to myself? I thought that this would be a good way to illustrate how we judge people, and they judge us, before actually knowing anything about each other.

The teens broke into four groups in order to work on one question each. Walking around the room, I heard conversations between these young girls about what it means to be kind to others and how there are things that people don’t know/see just by looking at you. They were having REAL discussions and talking about REAL issues that they face. I was inspired.

The girls gave great answers to all of the questions, given they had just met me and probably didn’t want to deep dive into their personal struggles. When asked what people see when the look at them, they stated the obvious. Things like, “I’m tall”, “I am athletic”, “I have blue eyes”. When asked what people don’t see, they gave examples such as, “I have three siblings”, “I have two dogs”, “I am a good student”, “I am a good friend”. This question was critical to me, because I believe that this is where children start to learn about judgment and how we can look past what we see on the outside and ask, “what DON’T I know about this person?”

We then had the group, including the adults, stand in a circle and say one thing that people don’t see when they look at them. Then, we went around again and asked them to say one positive thing about themselves. This is important for young girls. In a world that seems to tear people down for not being “perfect”, we need to tell girls (and boys) that it’s ok to look in the mirror or at a circle of their peers, appreciate what they see, and say to themselves, “I’m kinder than that” when they have self-doubt.

I honestly believe that if even ONE of those girls is walking down the hall at school and stops to say “I’m kinder than that” before judging someone, the world becomes just a little bit kinder. If someone’s life becomes a bit easier because someone looks beyond what’s on the outside or an 8th grade girl looks in the mirror and thinks “this is me, and I am enough”, then that is a win.

The Kindness Train

Two weeks ago I was in Boston and went to the Red Sox victory parade with my parents. My father is lifelong Red Sox fan, and the last time he went to the celebration was in 1967, so you can imagine how excited he was. I was excited for him. That said, I was NOT excited about traveling to the parade, being in a crowd of a bazillion Bostonians (no offense to the lovely people of Boston), and having to fight my way through the hordes to get a glimpse of the famous Duck Boats carrying the World Series winning players.

When we got to the T station I was relieved to see that there weren’t a ton of people waiting for the train. My relief was immediately replaced by dread as the train pulled in to the station and it was literally packed wall to wall with people. We walked to a couple of the open doors, but there wasn’t an inch to spare. I was already picturing the next five trains looking exactly the same. My mother, being who she is (a bit pushy), made eye contact with a young man on the train and he immediately said, “Come on, we can fit you in. The more the merrier.” As my mom was physically being pulled into the throngs of people, my dad and I had to follow her, for fear that she would be swallowed by the T never to be heard from again. You can imagine how incredibly annoyed every person in that train car was with us. I would have been equally agitated if I were them. I mean, I was annoyed that I had to squeeze myself into such a tiny space. My dad had to stand on the bottom step with his back smashed against the doors. I held on to him for dear life.

Before I had “I’m kinder than that” on a constant loop in my head, I would NOT have been very nice to the people around me. And don’t get me wrong, my first instinct was to keep my head down and not engage. Mikey and Kevin, the two young men who pulled my mom into the car were in their 20’s, they were hard core Red Sox fans who were drinking beer at 10 am and they were boisterous with thick Boston accents (think Good Will Hunting). In the past, I would’ve rolled my eyes (to myself of course) and tried to ignore them. BUT, the kinder version of me, decided that I shouldn’t be so judgmental. So, I engaged. Well, my mom started chatting with them…and I followed her lead.

Before these guys had even opened their mouths, I had already constructed an image of who they were. This what we humans do. Judge first and then find out who a person really is. This makes it difficult to walk back these judgements when they are proven wrong. I have been working really hard over the past year to catch myself BEFORE I make these judgements, think “I’m kinder than that” and then allow the person to show me who they are without some preconceived notion in my head.

Yes, Mikey and Kevin were loud. Yes, they were drinking beer at 10 am. Yes, they were huge Red Sox fans overzealously celebrating the team’s World Series win. BUT, they were also two incredibly kind young men. When the train would lurch and my mother would lose her balance they would hold on to her. They offered my dad a beer, although 10 am is now a bit early for him these days. They kept asking if we were doing alright and if they could help us in any way.

When my mother told them that her name was Karen Sullivan, they said that their pre-school teacher’s name was Mrs. Sullivan as well, and that she had taught them the importance of always being a gentleman. Mikey explained that when they were in pre-school and they would go on their “nature walks” with their class, Mrs. Sullivan would have the boys cross any water (puddles, streams, etc.) first and then offer the girls in the class their hand to help them over. He said that she made sure that they understood that being respectful and kind to others was always the right choice. We told them how awesome Mrs. Sullivan was, and that it had obviously worked because they were definitely gentlemen. When we were getting off of the train, we told them how lovely it was talking with them and how much we appreciated their kindness on the train. We said our goodbyes like we were old friends and headed off to join the festivities at Fenway.

If I hadn’t thrown my judgmental self out and allowed the kinder me to engage with Mikey and Kevin, I would have never had the pleasure of meeting them. This experience was just another example of how kindness, not judgment, should be our default. Judgments are the walls that keep us from discovering who a person truly is. Being “kinder than that” is the key to breaking down those walls.

Act, Don’t React

My family and I recently had the honor of spending the day in Scotts Valley, where we attended a “Kindness Assembly” at the high school (with motivational speaker Keith Hawkins), visited the middle school and got a tour of the local fire department. Many people asked me about the #imkinderthanthat movement and its inception. I explained to them about my nieces and nephew and the message that I was trying to send to them. The more I talked about it, the more I realized how important the lesson was to ME and how much it had changed MY life.

One of my old friends recently said to me, “You’re so much nicer now”. I didn’t take this as an insult, and I don’t think that I wasn’t nice before, but I do think that the #imkinderthanthat movement has made me infinitely more mindful of my action and REACTIONS. In dealing with people, instead of instantly being on the defensive, I find myself thinking about their feelings and motivation. I don’t react negatively when someone else isn’t behaving the way that I want them to. I actually take the time to consider what might be happening in their lives. I honestly say to myself over and over, all day long, “I’m kinder than that”. This makes all the difference.

It used to be easy for me to react and judge people. I know, that sounds terrible, but it’s true. I think that the majority of us do it pretty regularly. We are programmed for it. You are standing in line in Starbucks and you look at the people around you. What is she wearing? Why he talking so loudly? She’s overweight. He looks like he didn’t shower today. Why is everyone annoying me? It goes on and on. Admit it, you do it too.

Now, when one of those thoughts creeps into my brain, I am immediately snapped to attention with a resounding “I’m kinder than that”. I realize that whatever judgement I am making about them or reaction that I am having, has a negative effect on both of us. And while these previous judgements were only going on in my head, I can’t tell you how good it feels to NOT to let those negative thoughts invade my psyche. Not making those judgements about other people and not reacting negatively in certain situations has in turn made me feel better about myself. I own my kindness. It’s pretty amazing that four little words can make such a difference…but honestly, they do.

I believe so deeply in this movement and how large of a role kindness plays in our lives. We must own our kindness, teach children the importance of it, and spread it everywhere we go. Today and every day, be kinder than that.

Hug a Teacher

When I was a school teacher, from 1991-2004, there was one incident in the last year that I taught where I legitimately feared for the safety of my class. I taught severely emotionally disturbed/violent children for the first five years of my career, and there were times I feared for MY physical safety, but never for the safety of my class.

I was a 3rd grade teacher at PS 241 in Harlem in 2003-2004. I really enjoyed teaching there, but it had its challenges, as do all jobs. We were in a rough neighborhood, as the gentrification that had been happening in Harlem hadn’t quite reached 114th Street. I am 6 feet tall and blonde, so to say that I didn’t blend in as I walked the halls is an understatement. Still, I never felt unsafe. Out of place, yes, In danger, no. Until one Spring afternoon. We had just finished our math lesson and were transitioning to the rug for our afternoon story time, when an administrator came to the door, told me that there were “masked individuals” spotted in one of the hallways and to not open our door until someone came and told us to.  School shootings weren’t a thing (for lack of a better description) back then, with the exception of Columbine, and so there was no protocol for such a situation. I locked the door, brought everyone to the rug, and read our Harry Potter book like every other day. As I read about the enchanted halls of Hogwarts, I was wondering if people with guns were in the not so enchanted halls of PS 241. Somewhere on the other side of the school were shots being fired and were people being hurt? It was terrifying, but I never let on to the students that anything was wrong. Luckily, the masked intruders just walked through the halls of the upper school and left the building after scaring the living daylights out of everyone.

Even after this incident we didn’t talk about protocols or putting a plan in place when an armed assailant enters the school. We didn’t do active shooter drills and our students were not afraid for their lives (at least not at school).  NEVER in the hour that I was fearing for the safety of my class, did I think to myself, “if only I had a gun”. None of the teachers that I know would want to have a firearm in their classrooms. More books, yes. Technology, absolutely. Pencils and paper, please. No one signs up to be a teacher with the hopes of someday having a gun in their classroom. Teachers are altruistic, they want to make the world a better place and educate your children – make them better people…not potentially fire a weapon at one of them.

Teaching is already the hardest job around. The pay is disgraceful, dealing with difficult students (and parents) is draining, and NOW they have to worry about being shot in school. It’s a miracle that teachers still get up every morning and dedicate their lives to molding the future of this country. But thank God they do. Teachers need to be armed with more resources, more support, more money, and more positive feedback….not guns. If you have school kids, this is what I ask of you…today, tomorrow, or the next day PLEASE thank their teachers for putting themselves out there every day for your kids. Shake their hand, give them a hug, bring them a treat. Honestly, it could make all the difference in the world to them – and they deserve it.

Bullying – Changing the Dialogue

Have you ever been made fun of? Called a name? Told you aren’t smart enough, strong enough, pretty enough, “normal” enough? Talked about? Teased? Shamed? Judged? Made to feel like you are less than someone else? I’m going to guess that you said yes to at least one of those things (if not more…or even all). Now think about if you have ever done those things to someone else. If you’re honest, I would think that you would have answered yes to at least one of those too. Well there you have it…you have been bullied and you have been the bully. We all have…we’re human, it happens (and it doesn’t feel good).

In our society today we would be hard pressed to find someone who has NOT judged, mocked, or even belittled another person…especially when we were kids. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard people say (and I’ve probably even said it myself), “They are just kids. It’s what they do.” But what if we changed that dialogue. Didn’t make it acceptable for kids to name-call, make fun of or put their hands on another child. Taught what it means to be empathetic and sympathetic. Stopped making excuses for bullying behavior.

These days this may feel like an insurmountable task, as we have allowed our country to slip into the hands of a bully. Regardless of your politics it is virtually impossible to deny that our commander in chief is the absolute definition of a bully. He name-calls. He belittles. He mocks. He threatens. He throws insults around with no regard for anyone but himself. The irony that the First Lady’s focus is supposed to be an anti-bullying campaign can’t possibly be lost on anyone. The whole thing is laughable. What message are we sending to children? If a child is bullying someone and they say “Well, the President does it…”, how are we to respond?

I will tell you how. By having ZERO tolerance for any type of bullying behavior. Period. If you see it, hear it, or are even told about it…have a conversation, give a consequence, explain the profound effect that it may have on someone’s life, make it absolutely unacceptable. Find ways to show children what kindness, compassion, and empathy look like. Teach them to stand up for those who are being bullied and stand against those who bully. Share stories with them about the good things that people are doing in the world. Have them volunteer with you, so they can see that people in need are simply people who have been dealt a bad hand. Show them videos/pictures of those who are different from them, whether it is people with disabilities, children from other countries, communities with different socio-economic conditions. Make them understand what it means to be a decent human being. And most importantly, explain to children that just because someone (like the President) bullies doesn’t make it ok for them to do it. Use the old, “If they jumped off a bridge would you do it too?” – that always worked when my mom used it.

This is why I have been (very lovingly) shoving the #imkinderthanthat message down my nieces and nephew’s throats. If we can teach children early enough to be empathetic and compassionate, to stop and ask themselves if what they are doing or saying is kind, we could actually see a paradigm shift. Bullying behavior is NOT inherent in children. It is learned. The sooner we start owning our own kindness (and unkindness) and passing down those lessons to the children in our lives, the sooner we will see the change come. And don’t you think that it is our duty as adults, and human beings, to make the world a kinder place? Who’s in? #imkinderthanthat

Kindness in Our Everyday Lives

Since starting the #imkinderthanthat movement I have been making a concerted effort to do something kind every day. Once you start doing this you begin to realize that these “little things” can have a big impact. You never know the ripple effect that your kindness may cause. Here are some examples:

  • Say something when you see someone being kind (Saying “You’re so kind” could make someone’s day)
  • Putting extra money in the meter when you leave, so that the next person doesn’t have to pay (or if you see someone’s meter has run out, put in some change)
  • Holding doors open for people whenever you can
  • Stop at a kid’s bake sale or lemonade stand and buy something
  • Say Good Morning/Afternoon/Evening to people on the elevator at work
  • Offer your seat on public transportation to people who may need it more than you
  • Tell your barista (because we all need coffee/tea some time) how good your drink is
  • Donate, donate, donate. When you see someone raising money for a good cause, try to donate (even if it is a couple of dollars it’s makes a difference)
  • Be kind to people you are dealing with on the phone – even if you are frustrated with the situation (for example; airlines, customer service reps, banks, etc). Remember that they aren’t the cause of the issue, they are trying to help.
  • Pick up trash
  • Buy treats for the people you work with
  • Let a person with fewer items get in front of you at the grocery store
  • Ask a friend if you can do anything for them – some people don’t like to ask for help, but if it is offered, they may take you up on it
  • Ask your waiter/waitress/bartender’s name so you can refer to them by name
  • Leave a larger tip for a server
  • Say hello to a homeless person
  • Send a note to someone’s boss who has gone out of their way for you
  • When shopping, hang the clothes that you try on back up (the right way)
  • Ask someone how THEIR day is going
  • Let someone get in front of you on the road
  • Give LOTS of compliments
  • Offer someone your cart at the grocery store (or put it back)
  • Tell your family/friends how much you appreciate them
  • Give your pet some extra attention
  • Reach out to a friend you haven’t spoken to in a while
  • Send someone a card just because

Kindness Karma

Since starting the #imkinderthanthat movement I have noticed an amazing phenomenon. What I have started to see is that more people are being kind TO ME! Not just people who know me and are aware of the movement, but total strangers. It’s the old ‘what goes around comes around”. Not like in the Justin Timberlake song kind of way, but in a more upbeat do-gooder kind of way. Apparently, kindness really does beget more kindness. What a groundbreaking discovery! OR…perhaps I have just become acutely aware of the kindness being put out into the universe these days? Whatever this incredible trend is, let’s call it “kindness karma”, I will absolutely take it.

I’ve long thought that “karma” was what happens to people who are unkind to you. Payback for being ungrateful or mean. Now I realize that it goes so much deeper than that. There is a whole world where kindness karma exists. These days people are giving me grocery baskets as they walk up to get their own, cars are letting me “sneak in” when I may be trying to get a bit farther ahead in traffic (I know, that isn’t the kindest thing to do, but I am working on it), strangers are giving me compliments…the list goes on and on. Once we put that kindness vibe out there I think that people can sense it and they want to get in on the action.

As far as the people who “know” me go…they are the kindest, most generous people out there. I can’t tell you how incredible it feels when someone tags me in a post about kindness, sends me a touching story about someone being kind, or even sends me a little token in of their appreciation in the mail. It’s overwhelming and humbling that my friends think about ME when they read/see something about kindness. Must be that kindness karma at work.

For everyone who reads this…and really, just anyone – choose kindness whenever you can and spread around to everyone you meet. Kindness karma is a real thing (even though I kind of made it up) and you will see your kindness come back to you in spades.

Channeling my Inner Dr. Seuss

I was in the “kids” room in our house (we don’t actually have kids, but my nieces and nephews spend enough time with us that we gave them their own room) the other day and I picked up a Dr. Seuss book. I LOVE Dr. Seuss. I was inspired to write my own Dr. Seuss like poem in honor of the #imkinderthanthat movement! Enjoy!

One day I woke up and I thought to myself

What does the world need more than anything else?

It needs people who want nothing but kindness

Not a nation where groups can be hateful and mindless.

Communities that love with all of their hearts

Children who know where benevolence starts

Charitable souls who believe in gratitude

Not intolerable individuals with bad attitudes

I reflected and pondered about what I could effuse

And came up with a mantra for everybody to use

When you’re angry, annoyed or judgmental and vain

Say “I’m kinder than that” inside of your brain

What it will do is make you take pause

Before you criticize you will consider the cause

You’ll be more considerate and courteous too

Sympathetic, kind hearted…the best version of you

A smile or a compliment could make someone’s day

Your thoughtfulness and care will go a long way

In today’s crazy world this just might save your sanity

It will renew your faith in this thing called humanity

Give it try…come on it’s worth a shot

Let everyone know how much kindness you’ve got

All together now say it without falling flat

As loud as you can…I’m Kinder Than That!

Nurses and Doctors are Kinder Than That

Nurses and doctors are kinder than that. I know that is a broad statement, but in my opinion, they have to be. I just stayed in the hospital with my mom for four days and nights, and I have so much respect for the women and men who dedicate their lives to working in the medical field. Being there for strangers, who may never show any appreciation for what you are doing for them, is so selfless. It’s a dirty job…in every sense of the word. But there they are, with a smile on their face, making the patient feel safe and cared for. I was there for 20 hours a day and I saw how hard they work. It’s something to aspire to.

While at Marin General we had an amazing ER nurse, Ashley J., who immediately made my mom comfortable and put her at ease. We were in the ER for several hours and I watched Ashley go from room to room, giving the individual patient just what they needed. In my mom’s case, she wants someone with a sense of humor, who can keep things light. The woman to my mom’s left was alone and needed the nurse to make her feel safe and taken care of. The woman to her right was clearly elderly and although she had a caretaker with her, seemed to want reassurance. Ashley did it all in stride. I commented to Ashley that I really respected her for what she does and she seemed taken aback. I said, “It is probably a pretty thankless job a lot of the time.” She told me that it is and that can be challenging, but she finds it rewarding (which is what matters). When Ashley sent my mom on her way (to be admitted), she told her that she had already spoken with the nurse on duty on her floor and that they were going to have “so much fun together” that she was jealous. Again, going above and beyond…and asking nothing in return. Proof that she was “kinder than that”.

My parents and I were greeted on the 5th floor/east wing by Crystal, who was equally as fantastic as Ashley. The first thing my mom asked was where the party was…and Crystal, without missing a beat, told her that it was clearly in room 5305. They were thick as thieves right off the bat. By the time I returned from walking my dad out to the car, my mom knew every detail of Crystal’s life. Crystal did not have to spend as much time chatting with my mom as she did, but she obviously sensed that she needed to know more about her in order to make my mom feel more “at home”.

My mom was probably one of their easier patients, as she is very positive and was motivated to get better. She was agreeable (most of the time) and didn’t complain about anything (except the food). She also had me sitting next to her giving her the “be kinder than that” look.  But during our time there I could see and hear the other patients on the floor, and let me tell you, you would absolutely have to be a kind human being to deal with the things they deal with. I could go on and on about how incredible everyone was to my mom (and me). All of the nurses (Ashley, Crystal, Jovita, Kailee, Michelle, Lan and Marie) and Dr. Vaughan (and Dr. Carney in the ER) were wonderful, knowledgeable and clearly dedicated to their jobs. It made the stay at the hospital a much more pleasant experience for everyone.

The takeaway from this whole crazy adventure – remember to appreciate how hard nurses and doctors work. How much of themselves they give to their patients. The kind of dedication it takes to help people who are sick and in pain, and do it with a smile on their faces. So, to all of my nurse and doctor friends – and ALL of the medical professionals out there. THANK YOU! YOU ARE HEROES…and you are absolutely, positively, unequivocally KINDER THAN THAT.