Kindness. It’s a virtue that can be both innate and accidental at times. It can also become a practiced and learned skill. I find that when we travel away to camp each year, these older elementary age students who have just completed 4th and 5th grades are primed to practice these virtues in small ways given that developmentally they are growing and stretching muscles that move them from concrete thinking to abstract thinking, from the simplicity of life to the more complicated nature of life.
For years, we have practiced the tradition of recognizing honor campers. Those who exemplify traits of kindness and positivity innately, caring for others, participating fully and generally enjoying the camp experience. Adult chaperones would watch for these traits and children would be honored for them.
But this year, as we prepared to talk about loving more and fearing less in this rarified camp air, I began to wonder how this expression of kindness could be more self-motivated, rather than externally driven by adult affirmation.
And so was born Random Acts of Kindness. Random acts of kindness aren’t new per se, but our practice of them at camp became a way for us to draw nearer to God and to one another. Each child was challenged to practice 5 random acts of kindness a day. It could range from holding a door open to taking up a tray at lunch to encouraging someone if they were tired or sitting with someone at a meal and sharing conversation. The key—it had to be self-initiated. At night, each child would be invited to write a random act of kindness they had received (not given!) on a post-it, and we would draw names out of a box to share how lives within our own group had been affected by these kindnesses throughout the day. We practiced together initiative and observation, two life skills that we need more of in our world. One side note: if you pointed out the act of kindness that you did for someone else to another person hoping they would write it down, they couldn’t. And so, we also practiced humility in this experience as well.
These evening moments became so special, even in the midst of our tiredness at the end of a long day and as we read the post-its aloud. If someone’s name was called out as a giver of kindness, they did receive a small gift of affirmation from me, as well as the privilege of getting to pull out and read the next name (which honestly became more of a highlight than the gift, which is perfectly ok with me!).
Crumpled yellow post-it after crumpled yellow post-it was pulled out of this small plastic box. One child let another child choose the variety show pair’s dance motion. Two children sat with someone at dinner when everyone else was finished. Another child moved to another small group for an activity without complaint, with positivity, although it meant being separated from a friend for a bit. And on and on the acts of kindness went.
My hope and prayer are that these kindnesses spill out into the world, making themselves known with siblings and on vacations, and even as school approaches ever so quickly in the next few weeks. May we all be challenged to look for these small ways that we can influence the course of someone’s day, cultivating kindness and love in a world that is so incredibly full of skepticism and fear.