By Barbara Hagen • November 13, 2020
When I was in college, I attended a leadership retreat where we engaged in several exercises designed to develop our leadership skills. One exercise was to write our own obituary. At age 19, this was something I had never thought about. And at first, I didn't quite understand its purpose but as I delved into this unexpected task, its objective became clear: How would I like to be remembered? What course did I want my life to take? What accomplishments would define me? I sat for a while, contemplating, then feverishly began to write. Of course, I covered the big items: loving wife and mother, successful marketing executive, contributor to my community. I also added a few hobbies, like world traveler, wine connoisseur, and marathoner. Why not?
When it came time to share our hopeful legacies with the rest of the group, I was proud of what I had written. I could imagine this life I would have lived, and it sounded idyllic! Each person had a few minutes to read what they had written and when my turn came, I confidently shared my future life accomplishments, receiving reassuring head nods from the other attendees. My peers also had similar write-ups, some which even sparked additional ideas for myself. Start a non-profit? Expert skier? Yes, and yes!
Finally, the last person slowly stood up to share. I noticed he didn't have any papers or note cards with scribbles on them. Interesting. Instead of reading off a carefully crafted list of super-human accomplishments, he stated his obituary as simply, "The kindest person to all those who met him."
The rest of us sat in silence waiting for the next sentence, or, perhaps, the start of the real list of accomplishments. But that was all he had. Kindness. The room was heavy with introspection. Suddenly, world traveler and successful executive seemed a bit selfish. I thought about it more throughout that day. And throughout that year and years since.
While that single-minded aspiration has stayed with me in the decades since, it has been on my mind much more these past several months. Isn't kindness the thing we learn earliest in life? Learning to say "please" and "thank you". Being respectful. Never saying things you wouldn't want your mother to hear. Learning to share. Playing nicely with others. The list is endless. We should all be pretty good at this kindness thing given all the teaching, and practice, we have had since our earliest years. But when I look around...social media posts, or news stories, or even just observe society around us, it is clear our early education in kindness has fallen by the wayside.
So, on this World Kindness Day, November 13, 2020, let's all take a few minutes and remember some of those early life lessons. One of my favorite books for doing this is All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. Right in the beginning it reminds us of those elements of kindness we all learned very early in life which remain applicable for later in life as well:
And many more.
It wouldn't hurt to add Kindness to our personal list of what we want to accomplish in life, or even just every day. What would our society look like, and feel like, if Kindness was on all our minds as we went about our days, a foundational element considered before we speak or write or post or share? Do we each need to have a goal to be the kindest person people meet? Probably not, but it wouldn't hurt to have Kindness more top of mind, something we can strive to make meaningful progress towards. In our own selves. In how we show up with others. In our society, and in our world.
Below are a few other Kindness book suggestions, written for little ones but relevant for all of us. Please also share some of your own favorites in the comments below. Let's all do our part to Be Kind. Today and every day.