Podcast S2. Ep. 25: World Kindness Day! - CharacterStrong Co Founders John Norlin & Houston Kraft

Character Strong · November 12, 2019

Happy World Kindness Day!

On this episode CharacterStrong Co-Founders John Norlin and Houston Kraft talk about how a kindness poster that is in a lot of schools today is missing the mark, what it means to teach kindness, and they share about the difference between Nice & Kind.




“...the quote that I think we should put in every school in the world is "Throw kindness around like it's the most important and meaningful resource we have."”

— Houston Kraft

Episode Transcript:

  • John: Hey CharacterStrong commuters, whether you're listening for the first time or have been an active listener of the show, if you like what you hear, we would like to invite you to check out to see if we're going to be in your area leading an educator training sometime soon. These trainings are building champions all around the country on how we can infuse social emotional learning and a focus on relationships into the daily fabric of our classrooms and our schools. Visit characterstrong.com/educators to learn more. Now on to today's show.
  • John: All right? It is World Kindness Day and there's nobody else that I'd want to be talking to on World Kindness Day than my cofounder, my friend, Houston Kraft, who I don't know if there's anybody that I know ever that talks about kindness more powerfully than you.
  • John: So man, we're going to cut the fluff, we're going to get right to the stuff. One of my favorite things that you're doing, because it is such a powerful reminder, but I don't mean this in any mean way, but one of my favorite things that you're doing right now is you're kind of attacking a poster that is in many schools. And it has something around confetti and kindness. I wanted to set you up to just start talking about this man. I think the poster says throw kindness around like it's confetti. I know that you and I both disagree with that, even though we know the premise might be a good one. Just let's dig in right there. Why?
  • Houston: Yeah, Happy World Kindness Day and one of my favorite moments is putting that quote up on a screen and having whoever's in the audience, typically educators react warmly to it because probably it exists at their school. In some cases some people have meticulously taken time to dye cut letters and make these beautiful posters. And so, I always treasure how much I hate and love that moment in the same time, because I know educators are like, "Yeah, that's the one." And then I go right into it, because I'm a big believer right now in our current world that we are talking about kindness more than ever.
  • Houston: I think because in some ways we're having a collective reaction to the cruelty we're experiencing in the world, that we are inundated with news and information about some ways how challenging and how in some capacities, how mean we can be to each other, how selfish we can be in a world that I think is desperate for kindness. So, I think we're talking about it more than ever. Target's making shirts that say be kind. I'm seeing all kinds of memes float around the internet of people being the 'i' in kind. And you see that poster, I've been in 600 schools, I've seen the poster in at least half of them that says, "Throw kindness around like confetti." To which I would say that poster is doing the world a disservice.
  • John: Yeah. I mean that's a powerful statement. That's a powerful statement. People will literally start crying sometimes in professional development like, "don't you dare destroy my poster." But yeah, talk about why. Why? Because, I get the intention is good, but yet why is it missing?
  • Houston: Of course it's well intentioned, right? The world is craving more kindness so, we're saying let's give the world more kindness. But I think the way that we talk about a thing, shapes the way we act with that thing and the way we talk about kindness right now in our world, I believe, oversimplifies it. Right? The way I like to put it is we're fluffifying kindness in a way that I think undermines our ability and willingness to teach it in some ways.
  • Houston: And I talked about this at the Texas Counselors Association this year, and a woman came up to me afterwards, she goes, "You know, I'm going to change that quote. I'm going to say throw kindness around like bricks." And I'm like, "Well, maybe that's not the exact answer."
  • John: No.
  • Houston: In fact, the quote that I think we should put in every school in the world is "Throw kindness around like it's the most important and meaningful resource we have." Why? Because, at the core of this whole thing, we always talk about in schools when we do professional development, when you do our trainings, and we do assemblies, we start with the line, and it's a reminder, but it's all about relationships. And if this whole grand experiment of being in community together, especially in our loosely functioning democracy is the premise of we need to be relational with one another, well, at the foundation of that is our capacity to be kind to ourselves and other people.
  • Houston: And what does that actually mean? What does it actually require from us? Well, it requires a lot more than confetti. Confetti implies that this thing is free, that this thing is a simple action and the only correlation, as I had a student come up to me one time and argue with me. She said, "I would say kindness is confetti in one way, that when you throw it up, it's going to come back down to you." And I said, "That's a nice way to think about it." But, in every other way, kindness being like confetti simplifies it.
  • Houston: And as a company, as we are at CharacterStrong, that believes in combining social emotional learning with character development, I'm a huge believer that this lovely, abstract, beautiful idea of kindness is really a byproduct of a lot of really thoughtful, challenging behavioral work in our schools. So, I think that the only way that we truly in the longterm create a more kind culture in our school, in our communities, in our country and in the world, is to teach it.
  • Houston: So, what does it mean to actually teach kindness? Well, I think it means teaching social, emotional learning and to make sure we're speaking a common language there. Social, emotional learning, as we talk about it, we talk about it through those CASEL competencies, right? That Collaborative for Academics and Social Emotional Learning. It was sort of created 25 years ago to create a common language and a framework for understanding what social emotional learning is and they would say that SEL has five main categorical competencies.
  • Houston: The first one is self-awareness, the second one is self-management, third one's social awareness, fourth one relationship skills and the fifth one responsible decision making. And under each of those is a whole robust skillset that is teachable, right? That is the movement that we're experiencing in our country today, is the recognition that these things are teachable and weaveable into our daily pedagogy and practices so we can teach them explicitly through a tier one model, like our advisory curriculum, we can teach them to a smaller group of students, to a leadership type curriculum. And I think really we need to be teaching these things every day to adults and students through everything we do. It's social emotional learning is the experience of being human and in community with each other.
  • Houston: So, my argument, and why I think confetti oversimplifies kindness is the action of kindness is premised upon a lot of these SEL skills. For example, you take the category of self-awareness. Well, what lives underneath that? Well, things like growth mindset. I think in order to practice kindness effectively in our world, we need to cultivate a growth mindset. A, do I believe that I'm capable of growing my skill of kindness? Do I believe that I have an expandable capacity for compassion? Do I fundamentally have this understanding that I can get better at kindness? Because if I don't, then I think it's just sort of a part of a personality, right? You're either a kind person or you're not.
  • Houston: More importantly, in my brain, when you think about gross mindset, so often in schools we make it academic, and we talk about it like our ability to think that we're capable of learning more about a subject or a skill and I really believe that there's a whole nother piece of that, which is do I believe that people are capable of change? I think that's a really kind disposition. Do I believe that other people maybe who have hurt me or wronged me in the past, other people that I disagree with, do I believe that they're capable of growth? Because if not, then I think it's going to be hard to practice kindness towards them.
  • Houston: What about self-management? Right? The skill that lives underneath that is emotional regulation.
  • John: Kind of important.
  • Houston: Kind of important? Yeah. Think about all the people in your life that you don't necessarily feel like being kind to. I would say in some ways it's the vast majority, right? Why? Because we don't agree with everyone. We're not always going to get along with everyone. Not everyone's our cup of tea. We don't want to sit with everyone every day. And yet, everyone, if we sort of believe that people are deserving of kindness, we have the ability to choose to be kind to people, even when in that moment we might be jealous of them. We have the ability to choose to be kind to people, even if that moment we are angry with them or hurt by them. Even when they frustrate us or we disagree with them. Right?

“...kindness is this really lovely byproduct and I think in some ways we want to skip the work and say, "all right everyone be kind" and if we're going to say that in schools, if we're going to ask people and we're going to have campaigns about being kind, I think we have to first ask ourselves, have we done the necessary work to teach the skills that allow kindness to be functional or skillful in my life?”

— Houston Kraft

  • Houston: But one of our favorite lines when we talk about loves through the context of leadership or just sort of being a human is, you don't have to like someone to love them. And that practice is scaffolded by the skill of emotional regulation. Right? I am only capable of being kind to you in moments when I don't feel like it, if I practice regulating my own emotions. That's self management. If I don't know that, if I'm not skilled at that, then kindness gets harder.
  • Houston: What about social awareness? Social awareness is that ability to take people's perspective. It's empathy and Barbara Gruener, one of our CharacterStrong presenters would say is "Empathy gives kindness its y." Because, if I don't understand a person, it's really hard to meet their needs. And is not kindness in many ways about looking for and meeting people's needs, paying attention to people, making people feel seen and belonging and loved?
  • Houston: And if I don't have the ability to take people's perspective, if I don't know how to listen to people well or feel with people. And sometimes I give people acts of kindness that they don't actually want. One of my favorites, you probably talked to students who say, "I did this kind thing and they didn't want it from me." And it's sort of like, "what's wrong with them?" And maybe the better question is, "Well, what did we miss? What weren't we listening to or hearing or looking for in that person, that maybe we were exercising what we would want from in kindness." And yet that doesn't always guarantee it's what other people would want from in kindness. So empathy or my ability to take people's perspective is a whole skillset and if I'm not practiced in that, kindness gets harder. Relationship skills, communication skills.
  • Houston: One of my favorite stories is this kid who walked up to me after two back-to-back assemblies at a high school and this kid walks up and he goes, "Hey man, I want to let you know that my friend was in the first one and he said you were boring but he must not have been listening cause I thought you were pretty good." And I'm like, "dude, I could've done without that whole first half of that compliment" and this dude waited in line to tell me I was pretty good and I reflect on that moment often because I think to myself, maybe, maybe this was the most kind thing that this kid knew how to say. Kindness has a whole vocabulary living underneath it. Kindness requires a level of vulnerability and a level of articulation to not only see good in people but be able to like explain the goodness that you see and to me that's like part of that relationship skills piece.
  • Houston: Do I have the skills to communicate to people in a way that is loving, compassionate and kind? And the last CASEL competency is decision making. Responsible decision making, which one of the sort of core questions there is "Do I have a framework for ethical responsibility?" Right? "Do I have a series of boxes that I'm able to check in my brain when I make decisions to say, are things healthy for myself, for others?" Do I even believe that people are fundamentally deserving or worthy of kindness? Because if I don't hold that belief, if I haven't clarified that belief for myself, then what's the likelihood that I'm going to make a decision, especially in a moment when it's tough to be kind to someone. I'm just going to act based on my feelings because I haven't clarified what I'm fighting for or care about.
  • Houston: That's a long winded way of saying, but I think it's necessary, to set up this idea that kindness is this really lovely byproduct and I think in some ways we want to skip the work and say, "all right everyone be kind" and if we're going to say that in schools, if we're going to ask people and we're going to have campaigns about being kind, I think we have to first ask ourselves, have we done the necessary work to teach the skills that allow kindness to be functional or skillful in my life?
  • Houston: I think we need to talk about and teach kindness in a way that honors how hard it is, which means giving it its due time, giving it its due energy and effort and recognizing that we don't all start at the same starting line when it comes to kindness because we don't have all healthy role models of what it looks like in our life and home especially and then we all show up to school and we're being asked immediately to level the playing field by saying be kind, but kindness looks like so many things to so many different people and unless we're creating that common language, unless we're explicitly teaching these social emotional skills, then we're asking students and staff to be a thing that they don't necessarily see. To be a thing that they haven't been necessarily taught and then we simplify it by saying toss it around like confetti and we're like, "wait, what?" If it was as easy as confetti, our schools and our world would be a much more kind place.
  • John: Which even the descriptor of confetti doesn't in any way come across as like I'm honoring how hard it is. Right? It doesn't seem tough. It seems fun and playful which kindness can be, but it definitely is not honoring how hard kindness can be in and I love even just that reminder, like for all of our students, kindness is not normal, and it's connected to, but maybe they don't have role models of what it looks like in their life or maybe they haven't experienced it very much and so that's going to be hard to really put it into action. So I love the, we need to explicitly teach it. We need to honor how hard it is. How about this? We've intentionally gone a little bit longer today cause it is World Kindness Day and I want to dig in. Keeping it simple, yet it's not simple at all, would you say there's a difference between being nice and being kind?
  • Houston: Absolutely. Yeah. I think the world functions on being nice without realizing it. I think we all sort of collectively would call ourselves nice because it's rather convenient. You know, we're all nice people because nice is kindness when it's convenient. It's kindness when it's a reaction. I like you, I'll be nice to you. If I agree with you, I'll be nice to you. If I have time to help you out, I will, actually, if it benefits me to help you out, I probably will. I say the distinction is nice as reactive versus kindness is proactive.
  • John: That's good.
  • Houston: Which means we're not waiting around until something happens. We're not waiting for an opportunity. We're going out of our way to seek opportunity, right? We're making time versus waiting till we have the time to pay attention to people, to practice these skills, to build these competencies in our life, to pay attention to people and appreciate them and make them feel seen and valued and loved.
  • Houston: My favorite line from a kid at school, he goes, "Why do we always have to wait for something bad in the world to happen until we practice making people feel good?" And I think that's a byproduct of a world that is overwhelmed, that is anxious, that feels constantly busy and constantly exhausted to the point where we practice these things, these things that we know are important. We practice them when we have time and when we feel like it. And I would suggest that's the least effective way to improve at anything, to do it when it's convenient and when you feel like it.
  • Houston: It means you're only going to practice it in moments of comfort, of ease and when you have the time and as I look around the world right now, none of us have the time, so the practice of kindness in my brain and why a day like World Kindness Day is valuable is it's a reminder, right? And if we need to be reminded more than we need to be taught, okay, here's the day where I'm reminded to put this into action and hopefully that reminder spurs us into more consistent action because we know that kindness is more than a day, more than a week. It is something that we have to become and to become a thing is an earned thing. And it only happens to consistent daily practice like any other skill in our life. So happy world kindness day and may it translate into something much longer.
  • John: That's good, my friend, and I would just end with this. I think this podcast was pretty good. I'm just grateful for you, grateful for you being such an advocate, a champion of really intentionally digging in with educators about not only why is kindness important, but how can we teach it more intentionally and how can we be more effective because our experiences, it's not that people don't want to do it, it's more of how do we do it and sometimes we need to be challenged with that and if people are interested, we can get them that poster. Right? You've got the digital design poster to change the confetti poster, right? And what's one way that they could, could get that poster?
  • Houston: Yeah. If you just drop us a note [email protected], we'll make sure to hook you up with that poster and send you some more info about how we support the work of building kindness in schools and in our world.
  • John: Awesome, my friend. Well, let's keep making kindness normal together and you make it a great day.
  • John: Thank you for listening to the CharacterStrong podcast. If you enjoyed this episode, feel free to share on your social media. Please rate, review and make sure to subscribe for future episodes on Apple podcasts, Spotify, and Google play. To learn more about CharacterStrong and how we're supporting schools, visit characterstrong.com. Thanks for listening and make it a great day.

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The CharacterStrong Team is a partnership of educators, speakers, and students who believe in creating sustainable change in schools and helping young people develop the skills of service, kindness, and empathy.