Opinion: Kindness provides gifts for all | PostIndependent.com

Opinion: Kindness provides gifts for all

Robyn Parker
Free Press Opinion Columnist

Whether this is the time of year one says “Season’s Greetings,” “Merry Christmas,” “Joyous Kwanzaa,” or “Happy Hanukkah,” everyone deserves special times with friends and loved ones and a break from all the negativity we must cope with the rest of the year.

It’s been difficult to find my holiday spirit this year. December has brought the release of the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee torture report, more dismissals of police brutality cases than I can count, and the second anniversary of the murders of 26 children and teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Almost as disturbing as the events themselves is the prevalence of excuses for those events. Far too many people are arguing that torture is acceptable with certain people or in times of war and that police brutality is acceptable under some conditions.

Those same people still believe President Obama is coming for their guns, and they work with the National Rifle Association to thwart the efforts of anyone committed to decreasing gun dependence and reducing violence. It’s easy to succumb to their negativity and become just as angry as they are now.

I hadn’t noticed how long overdue I was for a story to warm my spirit until I scrolled across an article recently about a movement to honor the lives lost at Sandy Hook. Members of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America are participating in a “bake it forward” campaign in commemoration of the school shooting. Moms are encouraged to bake extra batches of goodies this holiday season to share with others.

“Baking it forward” is based upon the idea of “paying it forward,” in which people do random good deeds for others with the idea that recipients will return the favor to someone else.

The media is always quick to bring us examples of negative behavior like looting and rioting after a disaster. What we don’t see is the people who work together in crises to help others in their communities.

My quest for more information about “baking it forward” led me to some fascinating studies about compassion and resources for building better communities through acts of kindness.

Studies completed by Harvard University, University of California-San Diego and University of Wisconsin-Madison demonstrate that people can be trained to be more compassionate and that one person’s kind gestures influence others to treat people more compassionately. Individuals who practice kindness are also happier and less stressed.

The idea that one person can make a positive difference in the world has gained credibility as movements to spread kindness have sprung up all over the world. The Random Acts of Kindness Foundation provides hundreds of ideas ranging from offering a stranger a smile or a compliment to adopting a pet or organizing a concert at a nursing home.

KindSpring provides a website with a venue for people to share stories about their actions to promote kindness. They also offer a “pay it forward” game for which they provide cards for participants to distribute. The cards read, “Smile! You’ve just been tagged. Experiments in Anonymous Kindness is the name of the game. Now you’re it.”

For those who are seriously interested in creating better communities through random acts of kindness, KindSpring offers a 21-day challenge. Twenty-one days is the minimum amount of time required to change a habit. Participants practice doing good deeds together with the idea that their actions will become habits.

In the section for feel-good quotations on the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation’s website, there are two which inspire me most. “Wherever there is a human in need, there is an opportunity for kindness and to make a difference” and “We rise by lifting others.”

It’s up to us to choose whether our communities will be built upon fear and hatred or compassion and kindness. Science proves that each of us has the power to make a positive difference even if it’s just one cookie at a time.

A fourth generation Coloradan, Free Press columnist Robyn Parker is the former host of the progressive community radio show, Grand Valley Live. She is a stay-at-home mom, active community volunteer and board member for local environmental and social justice organizations. Robyn may be reached at gjrobyn@gmail.com.

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