D. Louise Brown

Louise Brown

When Melissa Nelson’s child was bullied 5 years ago at her elementary school in Pocatello, Idaho, she reacted. Any good mom would. For most of us, indignation with anger, maybe even some fury, would be our driving force. We’d come out swinging, hollering and making demands to make sure justice was served and a repeat performance deeply discouraged.

Melissa’s reaction didn’t go down those lines. And because of that, an entire movement is underway today, one that not only addresses bullying, but also suicide prevention.

Melissa discussed the bullying with her daughter. The two decided to meet the unkindness with its greatest rival: kindness. She offset the meanness with kindness. The strategy worked. The two youngsters became good friends. Kindness killed unkindness. It usually does.

From that experience, the “Community Kindness Movement,” (CKM), was born. In 5 years, the organization developed Community Kindness week, a School Kindness Program, “Kindness Day” (the 3rd Thursday of each month), a Kindness t-shirt that students wear on Kindness Day and at events, and an outreach element that engages leaders and businesses from the local level all the way to Idaho’s Governor Brad Little as program sponsors and supporters. Today, 43 schools participate in CKM. Last week, Sept. 16-22, was the 5th year of “Community Kindness Week.” The program’s hallmark is its positivity. Rather than promote a long list of don’ts, it emphasizes how to pass kindness along. Their motto is, “Kindness begins with me.”

I learned all of this when my daughter, who resides in Boise, mentioned her children’s participation in this year’s kick-off video. The video is awesome—and not just because my grandkids are in it, or my daughter is one of the officers. The video shows the “snowball” effect one act of kindness can have as recipients of a kind gesture then treat the next person kindly.

I was horribly bullied as the tallest girl in my class from grade school through junior high. I wore thick glasses, was shy, and hadn’t yet figured out how to run my awkward, gangly body. Even teachers took pot shots. I was the easiest of targets. A change began when one teacher told me I wrote well. Her kind words gave me one thin straw to grasp, one kind face to look forward to seeing, one classroom to sit in where I felt that maybe I was someone special.

Sadly, my story is not unique at all. Another daughter’s daughter is “special needs,” somewhere on the autistic spectrum. She struggles to comprehend school, and she knows—and hates—that she’s different. She wants to be like the rest of the kids, wants desperately to be accepted by them, so much that her eagerness sometimes drives them away. She is often alone. Her cousin innocently asked her if she had a friend. She thought for a long moment, then answered, “I have a friend who is mean to me.” The only person paying attention to her does so because she’s an easy target, easy to torment. But this beautiful, innocent little girl accepts that negative attention because it’s better than no attention at all. That’s a heart breaker. I beg every mother out there, “Teach your children compassion. Teach them kindness. Especially teach them how to love those who might seem different. Teach them that real joy comes from learning how to love and serve and give unconditionally—how to be kind.”

Is the Kindness Movement working? From my daughter’s point of view, it is. Not just in general for the whole school, but for her family. She told me, “A lot of the reason I got involved is for my son, because he’s different.” Her adopted son is approaching his two-year anniversary as a citizen of the U.S., brought here as an orphaned toddler from Ethiopia. His dark skin and black, curly hair is unlike his blonde-haired, blue-eyed older brother’s and sister’s. But that’s where the differences end. Their momma has worked hard to meld them into a family. Spreading kindness is one way they do that. As she observed, “After he came, I loved watching my other two because they weren’t raised to be racist, and so they are not. They’re so inclusive. They honestly see everyone as completely equal. I’m not even totally that way yet; I’m still learning. But they are so impressive to me.” She added, “We parents want to make the world kinder for our kids. This kindness movement is one way to at least try.”

Do any Utah schools participate in the Community Kindness Movement? If not, please take a good, long look at it. The videos, outlines, history, how-to’s of joining the movement, and lots more are online at www.communitykindnessmovement.com The movement is not confined to schools only; the word “community” is in there for a reason. Even families can adapt it.

The one social power tool most suited to offset much of today’s noisy wrangling and growing harshness is kindness. Watch the video. Join the movement. And find the one who needs your kindness.

D. Louise Brown lives in Layton. She writes a biweekly column for the Standard-Examiner.

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