By talking about kindness and recognizing it as it occurs, we highlight it as something worthy. It is a natural inclination to make kind choices, and it feels good too. Once, while leading a conversation with a class of 8th graders in the Bronx, NY, I asked if any had ever reached out to help someone they did not know. Many shared experiences from the neighborhood, recounting stories such as helping a woman from a neighboring building carry her groceries up three flights of stairs, volunteering to walk alongside an elderly man as he crossed a busy street, and standing up for a kid who was being hassled by some other kids. Everyone sitting in the circle that day felt good in the telling and in the listening to each other’s stories of good deeds done. The class came to a collective consciousness that it feels good to offer kindness to others, especially if you’re acting from an authentic place, rather than from a place of obligation.
Brazilian educator and social activist Paolo Freire taught people to appreciate what they already knew—to take control of their own knowledge and to create their own educations through a process he called “naming the world.” We can name the world of kindness by providing opportunities for young people to volunteer. Working in a soup kitchen, visiting a senior citizen’s home to spend time with someone who might be feeling alone, and taking part in a fundraiser to help others in need are three ways to do so. When we provide opportunities for young people to practice kindness toward others and invite them to talk about the experience, they internalize the truth in the phrase to give is to receive.