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Pass it on

June 2, 2008

by Jenni Sebora

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines kind as “of a sympathetic, forebearing, or pleasant nature;” synonyms – benevolent, gracious. Benevolence means “charitable nature.”

Dr. Wayne noted on The Ellen Show recently that meditating one hour weekly on compassion and kindness would make a large impact on the demise of acts of cruelty and hatred in the world.

Serotonin is a natural neurotransmitter in our brain that makes us “feel good.” Dr. Wayne explained that a study was done on kindness. It was found that acts of kindness increase the levels of serotonin in the brain.

The study revealed that just the act of receiving something in kindness increases levels of serotonin, and in the person doing the giving, the levels of serotonin increased equally as much.

Furthermore, in the people just observing the acts of kindness, the levels of serotonin went up just as much. Thus, kindness can affect everyone very positively.

With all of the stress in the world and even the stress our children feel, doses of kindness can be natural reducers of stress and anxiety.

The doctor noted that some 11 million children are on antidepressants. Could acts of kindness be substituted in some cases?

With a group of fifth graders in Junior Great Books, an accelerated reading program, we read a story about a girl who became invisible. The girl, it seemed, was placed with different families who did not give her the necessary love and attention, which made her feel “invisible.”

She was then placed with a loving hippo family, who treated her as an individual. The girl’s body began to reappear. Her whole body was visible except for her face, her “snout,” as the hippo family called it.

The hippo family siblings concluded that this girl would never be able to become totally visible unless she could become angry, unless she could laugh and play, unless she could express her feelings.

In the end, the girl was put in a situation where she felt she needed to protect the mother of the hippo family, the woman who accepted her and attended to her needs physically and emotionally. As a result, the girl expressed feelings of fear, anger, and finally, laughter. And in doing this, she became visible in entirety. The ending portrays the girl with a harmonious grin on her face.

Our small group members shared times when we each felt “invisible” – when we were teased or someone broke confidentiality, or when we felt we weren’t accepted.

The conversation moved to a heartfelt discussion of ways that we and others can feel “visible” and accepted. The group of students all agreed that acts of kindness, whether by the receiver or the giver, make us happier.

Their assignment: think of a way to spread happiness; something that each can do to “make the world a better, happier place,” whether it is intended for one person in their life or for a group of people, etc.

Do we take the time to talk with our children about such subjects of feelings, the topic of bullying, and the importance of compassion for people? This subject is as important as any academic subject.

I believe we do need to teach children about compassion. It is never too early to begin these discussions, and of course, to be role models of compassionate, kind people.

A male student in the group asked this question. “What if we are kinder to the beholden teaser, and they still treat us with words of hurt?” We know we cannot control how other people act, but we can control how we act, and put ourselves in positive positions. We know that people who initiate or respond with acts of teasing or hurt usually are hurting, themselves.

When we have controversy with a certain person, responding with kindness can “stop” them in their tracks because they don’t know how to respond. Now, is that hard to do sometimes? Children are still developing emotionally, socially, physically.

But we can always teach our children about kindness. We can have them join in on acts of giving, whether it be for a grandparent, a neighbor, a teacher, a serviceman, a woman, or a stranger.

We all know that when we do something kind for someone, it does make us feel happier; when we receive an act of kindness, it makes us feel happy and valued; and when we observe acts of kindness, it makes us feel like we want to be part of that giving.

Our assignment: think of ways that we can make this world a happier place – a way that we can spread happiness. If we each do this, it may be passed on, and then passed on again, and then passed on again. . . for our next generation.

“Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier. Be the living expression of God’s kindness; kindness in your face, kindness in your eyes, kindness in your smile.”

– Mother Teresa, (1910-1997, Albanian-born Roman Catholic Missionary)