Several weeks ago I spoke to the class about kindness. Kindness is something that’s very interesting. It’s contagious. When we help others in some way it has a positive effect. For instance, if my friend notices I’m out of notebook paper during math class, he might give me a piece. That simple act of kindness might have a larger impact on the classroom environment. First, it let’s me know I can trust the people in the environment. Also, I’m more likely to help out other students in the class with similar problems. Lastly, I feel good about my relationship with my classmate.
Trust is a key element. In classrooms, it’s easy to feel out of place. It can be scary. When we don’t feel a real sense of community and belonging, it has a very negative impact on learning. We begin to lose hope. We might even begin to stop trying. Psychologist call this “learned helplessness.”
Last September, the Chicago Tribune came up with a great article on kindness. The article “Is Kindness Contagious?,” by Jen Weigel, explains that scientist who research kindness are finding that it is contagious. It shares some of James Fowlers work. Fowler found that if you do something nice for someone, on average the person, or people, you touch will do something nice for 4 more people. If you’re thinking about the math here, that could have an exponential impact. For example, if you go and buy 4 sandwiches for 4 people that are homeless those people are each likely to do 4 nice things for 4 more people. How many people are you really touching?
Videos that we see on the web often support this finding in some dramatic way. Often times we might look at them and say, “Yeah that was nice. But does it really work?” Yes. According to research it does.
So why don’t we do it more? One of my theories is that this type of behavior is constantly in a tug of war with acts of cruelty. This includes anything that breaks down the community. Unfortunately, cruelty, or bad behavior is contagious too. Scientist have proven this to be true. For example, there’s the “broken window theory.” Sometimes when we leave an environment to slowly disintegrate, it does. When a street sign gets tagged with graffiti, it’s very likely that it will spread in a neighborhood. Eventually, other things in the neighborhood begin to get vandalized too. Also, if I treat someone poorly, they begin to think of ways to pay that behavior back. Often times, it’s done in a way that was more cruel. This is how we see behavior escalate. It’s like an elevator. It just continues to rise. Maybe you can think of something that happened to you. It’s likely, that when you think of the experience, you begin to feel angry and resentful. It may even make you think of things you could do back to that person that are considered mean.
How do we prevent our community from falling apart due to cruelty? One way I’d suggest is that you try to really focus on the things that are kind. So, what act of kindness are you going to perform today?