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A Call for Kindness

Compassion, empathy, gratitude, and service cultivate kind kids.

Renee Bigelow on Pixabay
Source: Renee Bigelow on Pixabay

While today it may seem that there’s not much people agree on, certainly one outlier is the prerogative of growing kind kids. The seeds of that growth lie in the relationships that inform youth development, particularly with the eight key influencers identified by the Center for Adolescent Research and Education (CARE) – peers, parents, teachers, coaches, camp counselors, physicians, mental health professionals, and faith-based mentors.

Perhaps first among those (as is the case in so many areas when it comes to the choices young people make) is the first: peers.

The timing for this discussion could not be better. Last week, the Riley’s Way Foundation, a not-for-profit organization that “empowers young leaders to use kindness and empathy to create meaningful connections and positive change” in the world, launched its second annual “Call for Kindness Contest,” a national initiative that provides funding for teen-led projects that inspire kindness, strengthen communities, and bring people together (Riley’s Way Foundation, 2020).

This year, 15 "Call for Kindness" winners will receive up to $3,000 each to fund their projects, joining with peers across the country.

For their part, parents, teachers and all youth influencers can lead by example, promoting compassion, empathy, gratitude, and service – each linked to kindness – along the way.

In an article for Course Hero, writer Diana Donovan cites the work of Dr. Amanda Sebastienne Grant in discussing the cultivation of compassion among youth. Grant, Donovan says, speaks to “moments of enlightenment and personal insight, when students begin to focus on human values and how they can impact others deeply” and how they want to be and act in the world (Donovan, 2019). Similarly, best-selling author James Clear states, “Every action you take is a vote for the type of person you want to become” (Clear, 2018).

Which brings us to the seminal question: Why choose kindness?

In her Psychology Today article by that same name, Marianna Pogosyan, Ph.D., quotes novelist Henry James as saying, “‘Three things in human life are important…The first is to be kind. The second is to be kind. The third is to be kind.’” She also posits, “As one of humankind’s cardinal virtues and most cherished social currencies, kindness – no doubt – is important. According to one hypothesis, pro-social traits like kindness may have even primed our species for the evolution of language. As children and as adults, we seek kindness from our friends and our mates. We spend our days giving and receiving kindness … It has been hailed by poets, philosophers and spiritual leaders as a gift, a religion, a language audible to the deaf and visible to the blind, a weapon to fight evil, and mankind’s greatest delight. And now, science is showing just why the accolades ring true” (Pogosyan, 2019).

What does that science say?

According to Pogosyan, “To begin with, connecting with others through kind deeds allows us to meet our basic psychological needs of relatedness and belonging. Performing acts of kindness can also increase life satisfaction, positive mood, and peer acceptance. It can stimulate the release of serotonin and oxytocin, which can increase trust, reduce fear and anxiety, and help us read each other’s minds … For teenagers, it can boost self-esteem.”

In a related piece, “Empathy: Where Kindness, Compassion, and Happiness Begin,” Dona Matthews, Ph.D., argues, “Empathy is the ability to understand and share someone else’s feelings, to the extent of imagining what the other person is thinking or feeling, and of responding with care. It is at the root of your child’s ability to be kind and compassionate, and essential for making and keeping friends. It is also an important factor in academic and career success and an essential leadership skill” (Matthews, 2019).

Is there also a link between gratitude and kindness? Donna Cameron, author of A Year of Living Kindly, says yes. She offers, “Throughout my year of living kindly, I noticed over and over that kindness and gratitude go hand in hand and augment one another...I saw that when I am in touch with my gratitude, kindness flows naturally and effortlessly. If kindness feels hard to summon, I’ve learned that taking a moment to appreciate my surroundings, my friends and loved ones, or little things that fill me with delight, inspires a surge of kindness” (Cameron, 2019).

Like compassion and empathy, gratitude also engenders personal well-being.

Charles Stone, in his article “Gratitude: The Brain’s Amazing Fertilizer,” offers up six benefits of being grateful (Stone, 2018). “Gratefulness —

  1. Can give you more energy…
  2. Can help you become more other-centered …
  3. Can help you sleep better…
  4. Can make you physically feel better…
  5. Can help you become less materialistic…
  6. Can help combat negativity and the negative emotions that follow...”

Others simply state that neuroscience has revealed that gratitude “rewires your brain to be happier” (Daily Health Posts, 2019).

Speaking of happy, Riley’s Way Foundation points to last year’s winners and the positive change they created through ideas, passion, and drive. As a case in point, they cite the work of two Oregon teens who created the “We Dine Together” program to make sure nobody eats alone at lunch. “‘There is more power than people believe behind a kind person with a strong goal, no matter who they are,’” said Wynter Davis, 16…‘Magic exists in people who have the courage to dream big.’ The other project leader, Shaylee Cooper, 17, continued, ‘Riley’s Way has changed me for the better…Across the country, people are trying to make the world a better place.’” Wynter and Shaylee used the money awarded for food, programming and activities after school (PR Newswire, 2020).

Such service is at the heart of Tom Rath’s new book, It’s Not About You. He states, “Life is not about you. It’s about what you do for others” (Rath, 2020).

Indeed, and that is a call for kindness.


Cameron, D. (2019). Gratitude is a companion to kindness. May 31, 2019. Heartfulness. (25 Jan. 2020).

Clear, James. (2018, October 6). Every action you take is a vote for the type of person you wish to become … [Tweet]. Retrieved from (25 Jan. 2020).

Daily Health Posts. (2019). Neuroscience reveals: Gratitude literally rewires your brain to be happier. Editorial. July 21, 2019. (25 Jan. 2020).

Donovan, D. (2019). 7 ways to cultivate compassion in the classroom. Course Hero. May 19, 2019.… (25 Jan. 2020).

Matthews, D. (2019). Empathy: Where kindness, compassion, and happiness begin. Psychology Today.… (25 Jan. 2020).

Pogosyan, M. (2019). Why choose kindness. Psychology Today. April 11, 2019.… (25 Jan. 2020).

PR Newswire. (2020). Calling all teens who want to make a difference: Riley’s Way Foundation announces the Call for Kindness. January 20, 2020.… (25 Jan. 2020).

Rath, T. (2019). It’s not about you: A brief guide to a meaningful life. Amazon Original Stories. December 26, 2019.… (25 Jan. 2020).

Riley’s Way Foundation. (2020). Our mission and vision. (25 Jan. 2020).

Stone, C. (2018). Gratitude: The brain’s amazing fertilizer. November 2, 2018.… (25 Jan. 2020).

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