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Kindness: Catalyst For Change Essay

Kindness – “Catalyst for Change” “Being different is a good thing, it means you are special,” was the phrase I use to hear a lot from my parents growing up. Being one of the few Filipinos among a predominantly white community, especially in school, it was only a matter of time before I was being confronted with a question about my race. I became conscious about how others identified me. I became aware of my own actions when interacting with others of a different race.

I learned that I have to consider my own life and what has shaped my beliefs, whether cultural, family traditions or the virtues instilled in me by my own parents, before I can consider other’s personal narrative. By looking within myself, only then canl begin to understand how others wanted to be treated. Diversity is often used to refer to human attributes that are different from our own. When you list these attributes, you are likely describing the visible or physical differences, for instance, someone’s race, sex, gender, or age.

Visible diversity is something you cannot change or alter. We also have to consider the “invisible diversity” like a person’s attitude, beliefs, ideas, experiences, and circumstances. In order to recognize, value and embrace diversity, we have to recognize, value and embrace the uniqueness of the individual. We need to step outside ourselves and be kind and compassionate. Kindness is the virtue of being human and a fundamental aspect of being social beings. Can kindness be a “catalyst for change” on how we embrace diversity in our society?

In George Saunders’ commencement speech at Syracuse University in 2013, he argues that there is a considerable lack of kindness in our society and if there is anything he regrets most in his life, is not the mistakes or stupid decisions he made but the “failures of kindness” (Saunders). Saunders shares a story about “Ellen,” an awkward little girl who moved into his neighborhood when he was in middle school. She was a lonely shy girl who was made fun of because she was a little different.

He goes on to tell the story of how decades later, what still bothers him are “(t)hose moments when another human being was there in front of (him), suffering and (he) responded… sensibly. Reservedly. Mildly” (Saunders). What George Saunders regrets is that perhaps through a simple act of kindness he could have made Ellen feel included and accepted. George Saunders asks, “(w)hy are we not kinder? ” This he believes is because of some innate “confusion” that “we’re central to the universe (that is, our personal story is the main and most interesting story, the only story, really)” (Saunders).

In order to be kinder we must step outside our personal “bubble,” embrace and value other’s personal narrative in order to understand the individual and find out what they can contribute to the conversation. In Michelle Obama’s 2016 commencement speech at City College in New York, she points out that one of the major problems we are facing today is intolerance. As she addresses a very diverse graduating class of 150 different races and nationalities, she shares an important point; “(t)hey tell us to be afraid of those who are different, to be suspicious of those with whom we disagree” (Obama).

We as individuals and as a society tend to react negatively, aggressively and even dismissively to people and things we do not understand. Which brings us back to the idea that in order to be a kinder person, we must rid ourselves of the ignorance. Obama continues to say that “anger and intolerance” should not be our “default state” but rather “optimism and openness (which) have always been the engine of our progress. ”

By paying it forward and by being selflessly committed to showing others we respectfully care in any way we can, a random act of kindness can be a “catalyst for change. Michelle Obama reminds the graduates, “that with those successes comes a set of obligations to pass on the lessons learned… ,” and “(t)he obligation to use the opportunities you’ve had to help others” (Obama). She encourages them to raise their voices by “speaking out for our most cherished values of liberty, opportunity, inclusion, and respect… ” (Obama). In addition, we have to respect people’s cultures and traditions, and we must be mindful of their values and beliefs because kindness and acceptance mean not forcing our own values and beliefs onto others.

We must practice mindfulness. When I was in the 5th grade, my family had to suddenly move from New York to California due to my father’s job. I was the new Asian girl, in a predominantly white neighborhood and school. There were not many children who looked like me back in the 80’s in a upper middle class white neighborhood. Most of the friends made had blonde hair with big bright colored eyes, while I was an awkward twig of a girl with dark straight hair, slanted dark eyes, with the typical Asian bowl-cut no less.

In 9th grade, I met my very first Filipino classmate, who barely spoke English. She was very friendly but other kids did not respond too kindly to her. She was made fun of for having some kind of a rice dish instead of the normal typical lunch that others might have. I sympathized with her because I recalled the days when I was the new kid. To show kindness, in my own way, I would bring a rice dish for lunch to make her feel included. I would invite her to my house and introduce her to my friends because this is the way I knew how to be nice.

However, I had to also keep in mind that our experiences were not at all the same. Being a new kid in the 5th grade was not the same as being one as a freshman in high school. A 5th grader’s social relationships are not as vital as a high school student’s, whose social relationships are extremely important. I had to consider her individual circumstances and not generalize her experiences as if it happened to all the new kids that came from a different place.

Michelle Obama made and important point about America’s foundation, that as a country; “(w)e don’t build walls to keep eople out because we know that our greatness has always depended on the contribution from people who are from elsewhere… ” (Obama). We should not alienate someone because they are from a different part the world. During my sophomore year in high school, I convinced my academic advisor to let me volunteer for orientation weekend. I proposed the idea of starting a Filipino club. I wanted to create this community where we can proudly represent and share our culture and traditions.

The kind of club that exemplifies acceptance of every background and the kind of community that embraces diversity and promoted inclusivity. I’m proud to say that 15 years later this organization is still part of the school. In achieving success with starting the club, I see now that this was an important step in the development of my social literacy. George Saunders’ message of kindness and Michelle Obama’s message of acceptance and tolerance should be one of the fundamental ideals of our education.

The idea of making kindness as part of the curriculum on the subject of diversity in our schools, would be a great-implemented practice. The practice of kindness can broaden one’s perspective, and a broader perspective can help us put things in the right context. However, what one person perceive as kindness, others may perceive as inappropriate, offensive or unwelcome. This is when we have to be considerate of each individual’s personal diversity, and rid yourself of your own personal prejudice.

If kindness and tolerance are part of the dialog in our education, greats such as George Saunders would probably not have as much need to remind people to be kinder. Michelle Obama might also have no need to focus her speech on issues such as diversity, tolerance, inequality, etc. because these issues would not be the focal point of our society today. Part of the reason 1 started the Filipino club in my high school was so others can be educated about a different culture and traditions and through learning about the Filipino culture, the goal was to broaden other’s perspective.

What came out of the experience is kindness, acceptance, open minds and open hearts. Everyone should make the practice of kindness a conscious decision as we achieve our goals. George Saunders concluded his speech by saying; “(d)o all the other things, the ambitious things — travel, get rich, get famous, innovate, lead, fall in love, make and lose fortunes, swim naked in wild jungle rivers (after first having it tested for monkey poop) – but as you do, to the extent that you can, err in the direction of kindness” (Saunders).

If we can omplish all the things that might make us successful in life. like becoming a doctor, or a lawyer and even the next leader of the free world, then we can make kindness a part of the fundamental ideals of our education. Kindness can be the catalyst for change on how we embrace diversity in our society. Our society will, in turn, begin to heal and a healthy society is one of the most important components of our social literacy.

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