Today, Thursday 17th February 2022 is Random Acts of Kindness Day. Random Acts of Kindness Day (RAK Day) is dedicated to making kindness the norm every day of the year by encouraging all of us to become a RAKtivist. To celebrate RAK Day, our Education Advisor, Ros Green, shares her thoughts on kindness and how the Second Step program facilitates it.
Like many others around the world, I was recently saddened at the news of Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s passing on Boxing Day 2021. Why? I didn’t know the man, had never met him nor even listened to or read one of his sermons. Why would the death of a complete stranger elicit any sense of loss within me and so many other people? I really believe it is because of what this man stood for - his public willingness to live according to his beliefs and values, spreading kindness and love wherever he went. Over his lifetime this Anglican minister and Nobel Laureate was a vocal opponent of racism and a champion of universal human rights. Desmond Tutu saw the inherent, inestimable value of every person, even his opponents, and was heralded a “tireless champion of human rights”. Along the way he forged unexpected friendships with people who had very different life backgrounds and world views. One of his most well-known friendships was with the Dalai Lama, a Buddhist monk and the spiritual leader of Tibet. What united these two men, was their belief that every human was deserving of kindness.
‘Do your little bit of good where you are, it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world’ – Desmond Tutu
Tutu and the Dalai Lama shared a willingness to listen to and to learn from those who are different to them, the essence of empathy. American researcher, Brené Brown, defines empathy as “an emotional skill set that allows us to understand what someone is experiencing and to reflect on that understanding”. Empathy provides us with the ability to consider the life situations of others and how we may respond accordingly. It is in these empathic responses that we find acts of kindness or what the Second Step program calls compassion.
In the Second Step program, empathy and compassion are the two main teaching concepts of the Empathy unit. Here, compassion is taught as 'empathy in action' and lessons focus on developing students understanding of this and the related skills. Brown’s definition in her latest book, Atlas of the Heart, considers that compassion is the daily practice of recognising and accepting our shared humanity and taking action in the face of suffering, whereby we treat ourselves and others with loving kindness. Herein lies the incredible power of an SEL program such as Second Step in which children are taught from a young age how they can tune into the needs, feelings and experiences of others and give consideration to this before responding. Some of the key findings of Brown’s research into empathy are reflected in the Second Step program content.
Empathy and compassion are important skill sets essential for success in work, play and relationships. Empathy allows us to be able to work collaboratively and relate to others in healthy, prosocial ways. It is the engine room for kindness, the well-recognised panacea for many social problems. Random of Acts of Kindness day is all about encouraging people to be kind to friends, family and strangers in unexpected ways and without requiring anything in return. The Second Step program seeks to educate children in ways to make kindness, empathy and compassion part of their everyday life and relationships.
‘If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion’ – Dalai Lama
Positive Pieces Education is the Australian and New Zealand publisher of the Second Step social-emotional learning program. Learn more