Saturday, November 23, 2019

ninjas of kindness

 When I was a kid in the early 1980s, it was a big deal to get candy from a convenience store or ice cream from an ice cream parlor.  My parents both worked hard, and money was tight; it takes a lot of groceries to feed three sons.  Candy bars were $.50, and a Coke was about the same.  An ice cream cone may have been upwards of $2.00.  This seems like chump change to us now, but these were luxury items in my childhood.  When my dad needed something from a store, he would sometimes pause before leaving and ask if my brothers or I wanted to tag along.  We didn’t understand the importance of an invitation like this from a work-a-holic dad.  This was a valuable pause for him.  An invitation to spend time.  I remember many of these quick trips ending with a stop at a convenience store or the Dairy Dreme by Heron Circle.  An edible reward for us going with him.  A small act of kindness.

Origin stories are important.  How and why things begin are so important in the understanding of what something means.  Humans have historically enjoyed creating these stories and passing them down through generations as a way of sharing who we are and what we value. 

Last spring I started to really consider the importance of small acts of kindness.  I experienced some kindness with friends, I watched a docu-series on Netflix called The Kindness Diaries, and I was the recipient of some serious kindness during the summer.  I had many experiences with family, friends, and strangers that showed me how powerful even the smallest acts of kindness can be.  Each of those stories individually could take up an entire blog post.  Each story is important to me, and each one has changed me over the last year.  Each one could be cited as an origin story for The Ninjas of Kindness.

When the academic year began in August, I picked up my weekly coffee talk with a handful of students.  This started with Armir, a long time student, a couple of years ago.  We found sort of accidentally that we had free time on a Thursday morning and started meeting there each week to chat and have fancy coffee.  We kept adding all the art majors who passed by until we had a weekly group of 4-8 people.  These were fun times of laughing and talking, a good way to feel better about starting our full days of studio classes.

A very bright and observant student noted one day that these events were fun, but they were inwardly focused.  They wondered out loud what would happen if we changed that focus by turning it more outward.  Instead of having a coffee club that was at least a little exclusive (to those who had free schedules on Thursday mornings), what would happen if we made that same amount of time about other people?  Even non-art majors.  Maybe we could take that special magic we have in our department and spread it to our campus neighbors. 

And with that question, The Ninjas of Kindness was born.  Each Thursday since that question was asked we’ve gathered in the same spot, still had a quick coffee, but also started doing at least one activity to spread kindness.  The first couple of weeks we huddled up and then spread across campus handing out little slips of paper with inspirational phrases on them.  We handed out candy a couple of weeks.  Another week we wrote kind words on painted rocks and planted them around campus to be found by strangers.  We’ve given high fives in the plaza.  We’ve given hugs.  We’ve given out balloon animals.

But these are all just the activities.  Just the physical, observable part of the Ninjas of Kindness.  I could speculate that what we’ve also done is make people smile on a Thursday morning.  I could argue that we’ve changed the course of someone’s morning, day, or even week.  I could argue we’ve changed someone’s life…just by taking a couple of minutes of free time and thinking outside of ourselves.

 It’s a little like my dad pausing and thinking about us before getting in the truck.  Taking just a moment to bring kindness and joy to someone through a small, selfless act. 

Recently I was asked how the Ninjas of Kindness group started.  I thought about how kindness kept showing up in my life over the last several months.  I thought about how people went out of their way to be kind to me over the summer.  I thought about my mom baking sweets for me, my aunt Laura Jean sending bags of groceries to college with me every weekend, and students sending me thank you notes or small gifts.  I thought about the student suggesting we consider other people, and I thought about my dad walking up to the window, ordering a Humdinger for himself and a chocolate malt for me, silently teaching me how to be kind.

You can watch a video my son Blue created about the Ninjas of Kindness here:

or search "doug mcabee" on Youtube and find my bald head in the profile photo.  Follow or subscribe or whatever you do there.