KINDNESS COURSE MATERIAL
Register here for Radical Kindness starting January 11 in Brunswick.
Welcome to Radical Kindness! We've developed a powerful three-step approach to our kindness courses - Awareness, Empowerment, and Action - based on having run classes and workshops for hundreds of people over the past year.
Below you'll find materials we use in our class sessions. You may find these useful, whether you take one of our courses or not. But one of the features of our courses that you can't get from just reading the materials is the chance to explore these topics with others, to share stories, to problem-solve together, to hear different perspectives, and support each other in life's challenges.
Our classes are very interactive! Each session begins with people sharing how they are doing, any challenges they may be facing, and any needs they might have from other classmates. People ask for all sorts of things: applause for having met a challenge, a hug when going through a hard time, attention for a vulnerable story, or anything else. We focus on respect, dignity, and caring - three key aspects of kindness.
SESSION 1. AWARENESS
We begin by exploring a question that surprisingly, for a trait so central to humanity, is rarely asked: "what does kindness mean to you?" Kindness has many faces. It is about more than just being "nice." Indeed, at times, it has little to do with being nice. For a deep dive into this topic, read Nice vs. Kind – What Is the Difference Between Niceness & Kindness? Kindness encompasses a broad range of human values: honesty, courage, generosity, and much more. Read The Underrated Value of Kindness for a compelling description of the many facets of kindness.
Because there are many ways of expressing kindness, each of us has our own particular combination of kindness strengths and weaknesses. AOK Maine has created a kindness assessment tool to help us better understand our personal "kindness profile." You can also use this tool to better understand the kindness profiles of others in your life - family, at work, in your neighborhood, etc. When we begin to see how we are all a mixed bag of kind and not-so-kind behaviors, it can give us more compassion for ourselves and others. Increasing our understanding of others is a gift to ourselves and to them. It can make all of our lives easier. One of the most powerful methods of conflict resolution - in an increasingly conflictual world - is to develop a deeper understanding of others, and then conflict can be reduced without even having to negotiate anything. We simply become more comfortable with what it means to be human, for ourselves and for those around us. We accept others for who they are and where they're at.
Click here for the kindness assessment tool. On the left-hand side is a list of major categories of ways we may show kindness. Start by identifying which of these you're really good at and/or most comfortable with: your "kindness superpowers." Then identify which ones you're not so good at and/or least comfortable with. Then, using the columns, reflect on whether you exhibit the kindness traits differently with different groups, i.e. your family, friends, workplace, etc. Lastly, make a list of your kindness "kryptonites" - what are the things that get in the way of kindness for you? These might be time pressure, a particular person, being over-tired, etc. By completing this kindness self-assessment, you will have a better idea of which "kindness superpowers" you can use best in stressful or conflictual situations, which types of kindness you might want to improve, and what things get in the way of kindness for you - your kryptonites - so that you can work on lessening those barriers to kindness.
You can also use the tool to assess someone you find particularly challenging - a family member, friend, co-worker, etc. - in order to make life easier for both of you. First identify which of the kindness traits on the left-hand side you think they are best at, even though you might overall not think of them as very kind. For example, you might have a co-worker who you don't consider kind in many categories, but you're aware that they are very authentic (an aspect of kindness). Authenticity is a form of kindness in that you always know where they stand (even if you don't appreciate how they communicate it!). Then assess, to the best of your knowledge, how kind they are towards people in the different groups along the top: family, workplace, community, etc. For example, you might have a co-worker who is not very present or engaged at work and seems aloof, but you're aware that they often go to their children's school activities and are very involved and devoted to their family. By better understanding others in our lives, we can be more accepting of them and we may be better able to figure out how to relate to them in ways that reduce tension and conflict.
SESSION 2. EMPOWERMENT
If kindness simply required good intentions, we wouldn't need this course and the world would be a very different place. But good intentions only go so far - for our innate kindness to flourish, we must feel empowered and confident. When we lack a sense of empowerment and confidence, not only can it be difficult to give kindness, it can also be difficult to receive kindness!
In this session, we will explore ways to increase our sense of empowerment and confidence. A key approach we will present is based on a concept called the "drama triangle." The drama triangle says that when we are in conflict or under stress, we tend to take on one of three roles - victim, rescuer, or persecutor - all of which create unnecessary and unhealthy drama, and none of which are necessarily kind, including the rescuer. When we increase our awareness of when we are playing one of these roles; explore what happened to us in our lives that have made us prone to falling into one of the three roles; and then make a conscious effort to step out of that role into a more productive approach, we reduce drama, opening our lives to giving and receiving kindness. The drama triangle can also help us have more patience and compassion for others, by seeing that what we experience as their "problem behaviors" may come from their being trapped in one of those roles.
We can take the drama triangle to an even more powerful level using a concept called the Empowerment Dynamic, in which we make a conscious effort to take on empowerment roles, rather than drama roles. Rather than victim, rescuer, or persecutor, we can choose to be one of the empowerment roles: creator, coach, or champion!
By learning how to play these more productive and healthy roles, we can reduce and resolve interpersonal conflict, reduce our own stress levels, and build more positive relationships. In these times, our communities and the world need more people in the roles of creator, coach or champion. Here are some resources that explain how to move from drama to empowerment:
Empowerment goes hand-in-hand with confidence. When we don't trust ourselves, we may be afraid to give or receive kindness. Confidence can help us move past our fears. It can also help us set our own limits with care for ourselves and others. Confidence can help us use all of our kindness tools effectively. Here are some resources to help build confidence:
SESSION 3. ACTION
From a base of awareness and empowerment, we move into the final step: putting kindness into action through both words and deeds.
Communication is at the heart of kindness. A harsh
word, an unfriendly or sarcastic tone, or even worse,
no communication at all - the silent treatment - may
inflict more pain than even physical attacks.
The old saying "sticks and stones may break my bones,
but words will never harm me" is not always true.
Words can cause harm that lasts many years,
sometimes even lifetimes. On the flip side, the right
words, at the right time, spoken from the heart, can
transform a life.
We will explore ways to use kindness in various aspects of our lives, such as setting boundaries, forgiveness, giving and receiving apologies, giving and receiving feedback, speaking hard truths, etc.
We will explore various aspects of kind communication. One of these is called "non-violent communication" or NVC for short. NVC is a set of methods that has been developed over the past fifty years and is now taught worldwide. We will explore the basic NVC methods and practice how to apply them. We will also explore new approaches to NVC that are needed in these challenging times that focus on "we" as well as "me."
Also important is to understand things that we may say when we're trying to be kind that are not actually helpful.
We will also explore ways that students wish to put kindness into action through acts of kindness, whether that be a daily or weekly kindness practice, initiating kindness activities at home or in one's workplace, working together on a community act of kindness, or any other ideas that surface.
Here are some additional poems and essays for inspiration and reflection:
If You Knew (Ellen Bass)
Adrift (Mark Nepo, slightly revised by anonymous poet)
The Journey (Mary Oliver, read by Chris Thile)
What If (We Were Beloved) (Jeff Edelstein)