With all the uncertainty going on in 2020, it’s comforting to know that kindness and empathy are transformative when put into action. Houston Kraft, co-founder of Character Strong believes that practicing kindness is an essential step in healing the world and I whole heartedly agree.
This is the kind of kindness that the world desperately needs right now. Deep, raw, generous acts of love. Not the fluffy kind of kindness where you “sprinkle it everywhere” and hope it sticks but authentic connection, along with the inner knowing that life is truly precious.
I sincerely believe that kindness is a super power, one of the most powerful sources of good that exists in humanity. And in this beautifully poignant excerpt from DEEP KINDNESS: A Revolutionary Guide for the Way We Think, Talk, and Act in Kindness, Kraft shares his mama’s battles with stage IV metastatic cancer, shifting our priorities, and our duties as human beings to do the hard thing and become the change we wish to see in the world.
Where’d The Time Go?
An opportunity to reprioritize what is important (and create a kinder world)
Have you ever received news so bad that your body stops working right?
I was standing in the kitchen and getting ready to walk out the door to speak at a school when the phone rings. It’s my aunt.
“Houston, honey, your mom just finished up her colonoscopy—”
I didn’t even know she was going in for one.
“—and they found what the doctor believes is cancer.”
My back is suddenly against the sink cupboards. My legs had given out and I’m shaking like the garbage disposal was running.
“I’m so sorry, honey. We will figure this out.”
I know you don’t know my Mom, but you should. I think everyone in the world should.
I’m an only child and a total Mama’s boy. She’s been a persistent role model to me when I think about building a more Kind world. Here’s a simple example: My mom packed my lunch, every day, until the last day of my senior year. You could always count on a sandwich, a small pack of chips, some raisins, and sparkling water.
Oh, and a post-it note.
Every day, my mom put a note in my lunch. Sometimes it was a new vocab word or a meaningful quote. Sometimes it was just a little reminder that I was loved. It was always something small, specific, and thoughtful. And she never missed a day.
There is something profound about small consistencies—about the tiny things that are done so relentlessly over time that, when added up, they actually equal the biggest demonstrations of love.
It turns out the doctor was right—my mom did, indeed, have cancer. Not only in her colon, but in her liver as well. It had metastasized, which meant it was Stage IV.
What I didn’t know was that my mom had been putting off her routine colonoscopy for over a year because she didn’t have time. If you are putting something like this off for any reason please then please, on behalf of my mom, get your butt checked!
There was this incisive article in The Wall Street Journal a few years back called “Are You As Busy As You Think?” It begged us to consider the way that we speak to ourselves about time.
What if we were never again allowed to say, “I don’t have time.” What if instead, we had to say, “This is not my priority.”
“I don’t have time to go to the doctor” now becomes, “My health is not my priority.”
“I don’t have time for this conversation right now” now becomes, “Our relationship is not my priority.”
The things we give our time to are the things that we value.
So, where does our time go?
For many of us, our worthiness is wrapped up in our busy-ness. Productivity is a primary pathway to a sense of purpose and lovability. As a result, our To-Do Lists loom large and drive the economy and our lives rather exhaustingly forward.
My mom went through eleven rounds of chemotherapy. She had a colon resection and 70 percent of her liver removed at Mass General Hospital. After the surgery, she spent seven days in the hospital. I got to be there the whole time and, along the way, she had a diverse squad of people coming in and out of her room assigned to her care. Four years later, out of the 20 people I met, I only remember one of them.
Her name is Wonderful. Not her given name, but it’s the one she gave herself.
I asked her why and she said matter-of-factly, “So many people told me I was wonderful I just decided to call myself it.”
She was immediately my favorite. She would walk in singing and walk out dancing. She had skin the color of a cloudy night and eyes that held you tighter than a hug. One day, Wonderful and my mom are trying to take a few steps down the hall. All of a sudden, Wonderful starts singing The Sound of Music. She’s belting it with my Maria-Mama and it doesn’t take me long to realize that Wonderful doesn’t even really know the words.
It didn’t matter. My mom took twice as many steps that afternoon than she had in any other attempt.
My mom, as of this writing, is currently four years cancer-free. In 2018, we traveled to Uganda with students and got to work with schools—a twenty-year Bucket List item she had never made time for. She got to celebrate my thirtieth birthday with me. I celebrated her sixtieth with her.
I have spent a lot of time reflecting on why I remember Wonderful over anyone else. All the nurses were competent and generally lovely. They all had a similar set of responsibilities: manage IV lines, administer medication, report to the doctor.
Turns out, you can do everything you’re responsible for and not be memorable at your work. You can do everything on your To-Do List without ever really fulfilling the Who We Want To-Be List.
Wonderful fulfilled her responsibilities, but you could tell that playfulness and warmth were top priorities. She took these abstractions and made them daily actions. Competence and Kindness are not mutually exclusive, but they do require an equal attention to detail.
We all want to be Kind. Present. Grateful. But the laundry, our inbox, and the project proposal on a deadline all feel a little more tangible. More checkoff-able. And if there is one thing we love in our current culture it is getting things done. Sometimes we will even write down something we’ve already done just so we can check it off.
Our To-Be List is a bit more abstract than our To-Do List. So, we tend to stay busy and hope we already are or will eventually just become the kind, generous, patient people we have always wanted to be. We will allocate hours a day to emails, but sometimes fail to protect even 5 minutes for kindness.
Unfortunately, our To-Be List requires just as much practice and work as any other skill or success in our life. As Will Durant tells us, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”
Ironically, to be a thing, we must repeatedly do that thing. It becomes a matter of time. Will you make time for the practice of gratitude? Will you design your schedule around compassion and alongside quarterly reports?
My friend Dexter Davis once told me, “We are all human becomings.”
In order to become the traits we have always wanted to be—kind, or something like it—we have to reprioritize what we repeatedly do. We have to acknowledge “busy” as the never-ending excuse that it is—a vague cultural peer pressure that keeps us so buried in bottom lines that it prevents us from being anything but surface-level successful.
The kind of kindness the world needs is the sort that feels so crucial that we prioritize our precious time to make it consistently real. It’s the kind that acknowledges that the greatest resources we can allocate in our life are our minutes and moments and knows that our most profitable investment will always be in the hearts of others.
Every day, we can choose to sacrifice even just a few minutes for the practice of being kind. Deep Kindness happens not simply because we value the idea of it, but because we’ve protected time to put it into an ongoing practice. We must reorient our schedules and our priorities to cultivate the discipline necessary to care with consistency.
Maybe it’s in a daily check-in we have with a friend who is struggling. Perhaps it’s an extra minute each morning to send a message of gratitude toward three specific people in your life.
Maybe it’s something as simple as a meaningful daily note in a lunchbox.
In fact, I think that’d be rather Wonderful.
Excerpt used with permission of Tiller Press, an imprint of Simon and Schuster.
Publish date: September 29, 2020
So if anyone else feels like they could use a venti sized dose of kindness right about now, know that you’re not alone. And maybe, just maybe you can join me in committing to daily acts of kindness in honor of Houston’s new book.
ABOUT: Houston Kraft is an author, speaker, curriculum maker, and kindness advocate who has spoken at over 600 schools or events internationally. In 2016, he co-founded CharacterStrong – curriculum and trainings that transform the way schools teach social-emotional learning, character education, and Kindness. To date, they have worked with over 2500 schools globally, serving over 1 million students. In 2019, his face was featured on Lays BBQ chip bags as someone who helps “spread smiles.” He was once invited to play on the JV National Lasertag Team. His mom is his hero and her best life lesson is to “hug like you mean it.”
You can read more about the book and purchase your copy here.