My daughter is two years old.
She strings together short sentences, and every day brings a new revelation. She recognizes the houses on our street, and clumsily feeds herself using a fork or sometimes just her fingers. She puts blocks together, one by one, and thoughts together, one by one, and I too am building.
I am assembling a list in my mind of all the values I hope to instill in her: kindness, honesty, gratitude, compassion, humility, forgiveness, belief in herself. She is old enough for some lessons, and far too young for others, and I hope to cement each one in her soul through repetition and example.
And in that sense, my daughter has made me a kinder person. I have begun to think more critically about my own morality, to scrutinize how often I have looked beyond my own needs to help others, and to ask myself whether — and what more I can do — to provide the blueprints for her to follow.
Acts of kindness
In “The Second Mountain,” New York Times columnist David Brooks writes about how acts of kindness and deep connection with others lead to lasting joy.
“The people who radiate a permanent joy have given themselves over to lives of deep and loving commitment. Giving has become their nature, and little by little they have made their souls incandescent,” he writes.
As an individual, I know I have not ascended to the level of commitment and morality Brooks describes. But with my daughter in mind, I have begun to weave it more purposefully into my life, little by little, and one act at a time. I am more eager to donate to a cause, to go out of my way to be more compassionate, and to try to improve another person’s day. Even if all I am offering is to hold the elevator door, I am more conscious of my actions and how they might impact someone else.
Love and kindness keep us upright
I do this knowing that kindness is not revered in our society. Our ties to community, to each other, are becoming more tenuous. Individualism is idolized, and niceness sometimes perceived as weakness. On the other hand, nastiness, it seems at times, is everywhere.
For now though, my daughter knows nothing about cruelty. Her world is a collection only of images my husband and I have chosen to show her. So for as long as I can, I will shower her with kindness. I will tell her how much it means to live her life with honor, and to help those she meets. I will shield her in a cloak of love and compassion that is strong enough to weather the tide of cynicism that tells us goodwill toward others doesn’t matter after all.
Because the truth is, kindness — and its counterpart, love — keep us upright. Our limbs may move us, but our ties to each other give us purpose. No one who loves a child can deny that.
Being a kinder person
So I will do my best to extend my hand in friendship, even if my benevolence is unreturned. I will counter the negative with every positive and moral message I can find. For my daughter’s sake and my own.
And day after day, I will remind her that she is kind. I tell her that compassion is of one of the most important gifts we can give in our lives, and even now, I praise her when she gives a family member a hug, or offers to share a toy. I plan to reinforce this message through service and charity, and to show her the rewards for being a kinder person are deep, meaningful and lasting. Here are 70 simple random acts of kindness that you can do yourself or with your child.
I hope it is all enough.
For Parents: “The Second Mountain” by David Brooks + my article on mommy mindfulness.
For Children: “Baby, Be Kind” by Jane Cowen-Fletcher. This is a great book for the youngest of children that shares simple ways for them to become kinder people.
Sesame Street: The Kindness Kid (Season 47 – Episode 2), Earth Day (Season 49 – Episode 23)