It was a regular school day when Kjel Jones taught everyone a great lesson in kindness. He wasn’t asking for notoriety. He was just doing what he knew was right. Although I have never met him, he changed my life for the better with only one comment. My children were the ones that told me what happened that day in the high school commons.
Kjel was the student body president. He was working with a group of students when two girls approached and told him in no uncertain terms that his hairstyle and clothes were horrible and they couldn’t even believe he would wear such a thing.
If they were hoping to make Kjel feel bad, they failed miserably. He smiled back and said, “Oh, hey, thanks for letting me know. And by the way, I really like that color on you. You look great today.”
In most situations like this one, the target might go on the defensive, but not Kjel. Instead, he deflected the insult and complimented the offending party. The girls fled, embarrassed.
We all try to teach our children to be kind. We constantly remind them to be thoughtful and refrain from saying hurtful things. We tell them it’s not appropriate to be mean to someone, even if that person is unkind to them. I can’t count how many times I have told my children that someone else’s rudeness is not an excuse to do the same. Actually, I tell them it’s just an excuse, not a real reason.
When our children have faced unkindness, I often remind them to consider what the other child is dealing with in their own life. As one of our daughters contemplated that after an unfortunate episode at school, I reminded her that the other child’s abusive father had just moved out and her grandmother had passed away only a few months before.
As my daughter thought about that, she added that sometimes the other girl’s older brother is mean to her at school, so he must be even meaner to her at home. Suddenly, she felt sorry for the other girl and started planning how to befriend her.
My daughter decided to make cookies and give her a small gift. She thought she could ask her to play kickball with the rest of the group the next day.
They became friends after that. Although it didn’t last forever, it eased the problem and made life much nicer for both of them. Our daughter couldn’t do much about the girl’s home situation, but she could make school a happy and safe place for her.
It’s easy to be kind to those who are kind to us or when there is a reward, but the true test of character is how we treat others when we aren’t being watched or rewarded. It’s even more difficult when kindness is returned with derision or insults, but it is still the right thing to do. Kindness can have a ripple effect that continues on forever.
But no child is going to understand the importance of showing kindness if we shout it at them. They aren’t going to follow our words, but rather our actions. Children might or might not remember the lesson you taught them that day, but they will certainly remember how you made them feel.
When water is all over the kitchen floor and there is a broken dish or two, it’s easy to assume what happened and become angry. But take a minute or two and ask, calmly, what they were doing. They might have been trying to wash dishes in an effort to help. Isn’t that worthy of a hug instead of criticism?
Cleaning up the kitchen floor will take you just as long either way, but your child will have learned more than just that the floor needed to be mopped. They will have learned how to be sensitive to others’ feelings, which is by far the greater lesson.
As you live according to your belief that all people deserve common courtesy, your children will gain a greater understanding of the value of people and the knowledge that courtesy is not to be saved for only those that show respect.
It has to start somewhere, and that means in our own families and in our own behavior. We cannot wait for someone else to treat us well. We must be willing to be the first. We also need to teach our children that returning anger for anger is not the answer, that showing love is not a sign of weakness but of greater strength.
The French essayist Joseph Joubert once remarked, “Kindness is loving people more than they deserve.” And that is the true test of character.
Donna Howard is a mother of ten children—yes, ten—a grandmother of six, and has served as a foster parent. She has a bachelor’s degree in clarinet performance and composition. She teaches elementary music methods to education majors and owns her own band instrument repair business.