Posts Tagged ‘compassion’

On kindness

“Kindness keeps the world afloat.” – Orly Wahba, founder of Life Vest Inside

I find that quote so inspiring. At times, the world feels as if it’s sinking. The news can be so overwhelmingly negative that you forget there are good people out there dedicating their lives to making a difference. Like Orly Wahba, whom I’ve quoted above. And like this newly married couple—they decided to forego a wedding reception and a honeymoon; instead, they are using those funds to travel around all 50 states to do random acts of kindness for animals, children, the homeless and so on. I love it! So inspirational!

Then there is The World Kindness Movement, which is dedicated to spreading kindness on a global scale. It’s such an amazing idea because the thing about kindness is it’s so infectious. Also, it really makes a profound impact on people’s lives.

Even science points to the importance of kindness. A recent study by Stanford University’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education, sponsored by Dignity Health, found that patients treated with compassion and kindness healed faster, felt less pain and were discharged sooner. Click here and scroll down for an amazing infographic.

A kindness curriculum

I saw this firsthand while working as a teacher in the San Francisco public schools.  I felt like something was really lacking from our curriculum. Yes, the kids were being taught math, science, history, English and so on. But many of my kids were from some of San Francisco’s toughest neighborhoods. They lacked role models at home, were barely passing, and didn’t seem to care about their education. Sometimes it felt so impossible to reach them. Then I wondered … could kindness make a difference?

So my friend Kathy (also a teacher at my school) and I decided to develop a special curriculum on Kindness. She still teaches it to this day. We developed three units on the topics of homelessness, the elderly and animal welfare. Students spent a couple of weeks on each unit—reading, writing and discussing. We also had them create diary entries—putting themselves in the shoes of a homeless person, an animal at the shelter, and an elderly person in a home. What is their day like? How do they feel? And then, at the end of six weeks, they had to do a final project—either write a paper or volunteer five hours in the community (related to one of the units).

I was blown away by how inspired these kids were by our kindness project. The kids who hated school and never did homework—these were the ones spending their weekends cleaning out cages at the SPCA, then bringing videos in to share and report back to us all about what they had learned.

But perhaps what was most surprising was this: the A+ students—they didn’t want to get their hands dirty and volunteer; they chose to write a paper as their final project. Meanwhile, the kids you’d think are “headed for trouble”—these were the ones who enthusiastically wanted to go into the community and get down and dirty and help. Volunteering is the hardest choice, and they absolutely embraced it.

I learned that the kids who were not motivated at all, that I had such difficulty reaching—they were really able to connect and be kind when they started spending time around animals. The “tough kid” suddenly became kind and sensitive when talking about the kittens at the shelter. It was truly heartwarming!

Dogs and kindness

Now through my work with SARA, I’m able to see how acts of kindness can make an immense difference—even in the worst of circumstances. We recently had a SARA fundraiser, which raised more than $3,000 for our teachers in India who offer Reiki to street dogs. This money allowed them to teach animal shelter staff at TOFLA (Tree of Life for Animals), offer classes to the public, and “be” Reiki with the dogs who were dying. I’m talking about really difficult work here. One of my students was able to offer Reiki to a bunch of puppies that came in. They were too weak to survive, but she was there to train people and hold a space of love and kindness amidst all this pain and sadness.

Experiences like these are so meaningful to me … and I want to hear more! Please share your thoughts—and your experiences—on kindness.

P.S.: A wonderful TED talk on kindness and consequence, and some kindness ideas on Pinterest.

5 must-read picture books for animal lovers

“A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.”  —C.S. Lewis

Kathleen and I were discussing our favorite picture books the other day. You know, the ones that appeal to grownups just as much as kids. The favorites from your childhood; the books you secretly hope your little one asks you to read over and over again.

With so many books out there for young readers, it’s nearly impossible to narrow down to just five. But because it’s Picture Book Month, here are five with animal themes that really stand out to us (and that our children have loved):

1. A Garden of Whales by Maggie Davis: In this heartful story about endangered whales, a little boy in his bathtub imagines he lives in the ocean and dreams up a way to save all of the world’s whale families. Beautiful illustrations accompany lyrical text in this picture book that will have your child loving whales—and believing that someday he or she, too, might be able to make a difference.


2. Tarra & Bella: The Elephant and Dog Who Became Best Friends by Carol Buckley: When Tarra retires from the circus, she finds a new home at The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee. But she’s lonely and doesn’t connect with any of the other resident animals—until Bella, a stray dog, arrives. Their unbreakable bond is tested when Bella gets injured, but Tarra stands by her side. This true story set to lovely photos documents what it means to be forever friends.


3. Anatole by Eve Titus: This is a sweet tale of keeping one’s honor set in one of the world’s most popular cities: Paris. When Anatole the mouse discovers humans consider rummaging mice to be dirty and disgusting, he is shocked! But instead of accepting this as a fact like everyone else, he’s determined to change their view of him. Though he may be just one tiny, insignificant mouse, he hatches a clever plan to help the humans and, along the way, regain his honor.


4. The Three Questions by Jon J. Muth: Based on a story by Leo Tolstoy, this lovely picture book with beautiful watercolor illustrations tells the tale of a young boy who seeks answers to some of life’s most important questions. He asks his best friends—a heron, a monkey and a dog—but, unsatisfied with their answers, sets out to ask a wise turtle. But the answers to questions such as these can’t just be told, they have to be experienced—which the boy ultimately does, following a series of choices he makes rooted in kindness and compassion.

three questions

5. Owl Babies by Martin Waddell: Three baby owls wake up in their tree and wonder, where’s Mommy? As they wait in the night, each baby has different ideas about where she might be, but they all share a deep love for her. What a timeless message this book imparts to young readers: that Mommy (or Daddy) always comes back.

owl babies

Honorable mentions: Miss Spider’s Tea Party by David Kirk (sadly, this book is out of print, but used copies are available on Amazon); Time for Bed by Mem Fox; and Owen & Mzee: The True Story of a Remarkable Friendship by Isabella Hatkoff, Craig Hatkoff and Paula Kahumbu.

What are we missing? What are your favorite picture books?

{Lead photo © Charlotte Jensen}


The best album I’ve heard in years

You know how sometimes you find that perfect album, the one where every song just resonates to the very core of your being?

Throughout the years, there have been many albums like that for me: Keane’s “Under the Iron Sea.” Colin Hay’s “Going Somewhere.” U2’s “Joshua Tree.” But today, right now–during this particular time in my life–that album is “Ghost Stories” by Coldplay.

Music is personal; I get it. You may not feel so connected as I do to this album, and that’s OK. And while I’m absolutely in love with every beautiful track sung by Chris Martin, here are three tracks that stand out in particular. …

  • “Always in My Head”: The song sounds absolutely angelic as it starts. Then the music ramps up, and it’s so smooth and beautiful.
  • “Sky Full of Stars”: This is my soundtrack to making homemade chocolate-chip cookies with my daughter Indigo. I twirl around in circles and we dance. It makes me feel like a kid again!
  • “O”: Exquisitely written, this song holds a lot of meaning for me. It’s about letting go, but in that letting go, you’re sharing compassion and love with an open hand. Whether with friends or with loved ones, it’s about being unselfish, generous and free in your love.

What album gives you an automatic mood boost? What songs stand by you through times of happiness or times of melancholy? I’m always looking to expand my playlist and would love to hear your suggestions.