“Listen to the mustn’ts, child. Listen to the don’ts. Listen to the shouldn’ts, the impossibles, the won’ts. Listen to the never haves, then listen close to me … Anything can happen, child. Anything can be.”― Shel Silverstein
The following story comes from one of my SARA shelters, TOLFA (Tree of Life for Animals) sanctuary in Rajasthan, Northern India. For those of us who work with shelter animals, where navigating heartbreak and hope is an everyday occurrence, stories like these—of animals who beat impossible odds—remind us why we do what we do.
“She has a severe blood disorder. She’s so emaciated, she’s going to need a blood transfusion to survive.” The vet’s words confirmed the rescuers’ worst fears: The condition of Twiggy, as she was later named, looked dire when she first arrived at TOLFA.
“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.