Why kindness never goes out of style
December 02, 2013
We heard a story the other day that warmed our slightly
world-weary hearts. A fifth grade teacher asked her class to take
out three sheets of paper and cut them into 24 roughly equal
squares. Each one of those squares represented a person in class.
With pens in hand, she asked each of them to take the next 20
minutes to write down one nice thing about each person in class. It
didn't have to be remarkable, although it could be, just something
you appreciated, like a talent, a physical trait, something about
There was nervous laughter from some. Others got right to work,
the business of positive feedback hot in their hands. The slips
were signed, labeled for the intended recipients and hand-delivered
to their desks.
This teacher was creating a memory
around kindness. Was she aware of how powerful this exercise really
was? It was as if she was putting something into motion that would
fight every impulse we have as human beings to focus on and
remember the negative.
Why are negative encounters easier to remember? Why can nine
nice things happen only to leave us remembering the tenth slightly
off-putting or unpleasant one? Turns out there's a reason,
according to an article in O, The Oprah
"'The same neurohormonal chemistry that
evolved to get us away from charging lions is locked and loaded
today when we feel the least bit threatened,' says Rick Hanson,
PhD, founder of the Wellspring Institute for Neuroscience and
Contemplative Wisdom. 'But while this stress reaction may have been
helpful in the Serengeti, it's harmful now.' One reason: Negative
encounters tend to leave stronger impressions than positive ones
because they provoke more intense reactions. As a result, we
develop a selective memory for failures, slights and bad
If this is true that negative encounters tend to stick with us
longer than positive - and we know that it is - then this teacher
was creating a positive encounter that had the power to crowd out
lingering negatives. This exercise was so positive it just might
undo the work of the offhand remark, the team you didn't make, the
invite you never received. This act of kindness on the part of the
teacher and 24 classmates might make a lasting difference.
And we can say that it did. Because
it happened to one among us and she remembers it more than 30 years
later. And she still has all 24 scraps of paper. Thank you, Mrs.
Brumfield, from all of us. Your kindness is timeless.
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