Community & Current Events

How to make kindness your New Year's resolution

By: Craig and Marc Kielburger

Photography by John Hryniuk Author: Canadian Living Credits: Photography by John Hryniuk

Community & Current Events

How to make kindness your New Year's resolution

By: Craig and Marc Kielburger
Craig: The year 2013 is likely to be remembered for Alberta's historic flooding and for the Lac-Mégantic train explosion, but it was also a year that showed Canadians' true giving colours. Take, for example, the owner of an industrial vacuum company in Saskatchewan who drove 750 kilometres to help Calgarians pump out their basements, or the authors and artists who donated new books and artwork to rebuild the collections of the destroyed Lac-Mégantic library.

Then there were the Torontonians who gave a stranded transit passenger a 90-minute lift home after the city's record flash flood in July; the viral video of a Victoria motorcyclist pulling over to help a wheelchair-bound woman stuck on the sidewalk; and the anonymous man in Edmonton who bought coffee for 500 strangers. So many events dented the theory that we're all passive bystanders, that society is too busy and self-absorbed to help someone in need. This year, let's take it up a notch. While we're making New Year's resolutions, we can make 2014 the Year of Kindness.

Marc: We've always loved random acts of kindness, but two women in Santa Cruz, California, raised the bar in 2009 with the launch of Boom Boom! cards. This pack of 26 cards with ideas for "intentional acts of kindness"—washing a neighbour's car, leaving an overly generous tip or writing thank-you cards to former teachers—has inspired thousands of "agents of altruism." All of this has caught on, with several bloggers dedicating months or years to practising kindness.

Some of my favourite kind acts include putting money in an expired parking meter, bringing hot chocolate to a crossing guard and baking cookies for coworkers (hint, hint, Russ in the office down the hall). Dave Carrol of Brantford, ON, literally dons a mask and cape to become Captain Kindness at local events and schools in order to inspire his fellow residents to do good deeds for others.

Craig: Practising kindness is beneficial to more than just the recipient. Researchers have found that performing good deeds produces a "helper's high" of endorphins similar to the boost you get from exercise. Kindness is also contagious, which can lead to some reciprocal benefits; bring soup to a neighbour one day and you may find your hedges mysteriously pruned next month.

The more kindness is paid forward, the healthier and safer communities become. Imagine reclaiming that neighbourhood spirit you felt in childhood, when kids played together and people watched out for each other. You'll be setting a great example for the next generation, too. A 2012 University of British Columbia study found that preadolescent kids who performed three acts of kindness per week for one month were more popular with their peers, and that teens felt more accepted and experienced less bullying.

Marc: I've already seen kindness's effects via my two-year-old daughter, Lily-Rose, who approaches children in the park and proffers sincere, if suffocating, hugs. So how do you start? A set of Boom Boom! cards might assist you in helping random targets, but there are also people closer to you—neighbours, friends, family—who could use an act of kindness.

Be observant: Has someone you know had a baby, been in the hospital or been having difficult times? Has someone shown kindness to you that could be returned? Think about a useful skill you could share, like helping fix a friend's leaky faucet or tuning up a neighbour's bicycle. Join your neighbourhood association to find out more about the people on your block and what they may need. And if you're out of ideas, the Victorian Order of Nurses is running a pilot Neighbours Helping Neighbours caregiver program in the Ottawa region that is expanding across the country. In 2013, Canadians proved we are a nation of helpers when we notice people in need. This year, let's resolve to look harder.

Check out more columns by the Kielburgers, including why it's important to keep family traditions alive.
                             
This story was originally titled "Resolve to Be Kind" in the January 2014 issue.
           
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How to make kindness your New Year's resolution

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