by Dave Sewell
Where does kindness start? For many of us, our first introduction came from our parents. From my earliest memories, throughout my whole life and up to the present day, my angel mother’s kindness, love and encouragement have comforted me, buoyed me and provided wind for my sails. She also modeled how to treat other people kindly by showing genuine concern for those she interacted with.
My father was a good example of how to treat people fairly, with dignity and respect, regardless of race, economic status or culture. He taught me an enduring lesson when I was a young boy just after we had moved to a larger house. I came home one day telling him I wasn’t sure I wanted to still play with Jerry, a friend who lived in the neighborhood we had moved from. When he asked why, I made some comment comparing Jerry’s house to our new one. My father expressed disappointment in me for judging Jerry on that basis. The rebuke set my young heart on a better course – and I played with Jerry.
We can all remember people in our lives whose examples of kindness, fairness and civility have shaped our lives for good – family, friends, teachers, religious and civic leaders, mentors, associates, and sometimes strangers. Remembering those people and their positive impact on our lives can motivate and inspire us to want to “pay it forward” by being kind to others in similar fashion. Showing kindness to others is a win/win because usually both the giver and the receiver benefit from it.
Some people get off to a rough start in life lacking strong headwinds of love, kindness and encouragement. The negative effects of such deficits can be devastating, but many have risen above such challenges to give more than they got – becoming givers of the kindness they wished they had received earlier in life. My wife and I recently watched a movie titled “Noble” about one such individual. Christina Noble was sent to live in an orphanage at the age of 10. After escaping as a teenager, she suffered from gang violence while living on the street and later from domestic abuse. However, she overcame all of that to eventually form a foundation that cared for over 700,000 children in Vietnam and later in Mongolia. She spearheaded an inspiring program to provide the love and kindness to orphaned children that she wished she had experienced in her youth.
Religion can be a powerful motivator encouraging us to be kind and respectful. Most world religions have some version of the Golden Rule among their tenets – do unto others as you would have them do unto you. These words from a children’s song well known in this area seem relevant here: “Love one another as Jesus loves you. Try to show kindness in all that you do.” Many leaders of other world religions have taught similar principles of empathy and compassion – including the Buddha, Mahatma Ghandi, and the Islamic prophet Muhammad.
Scientific studies have validated good reasons, unrelated to religion, for promoting and teaching kindness – especially where our youth are concerned. I found this article titled “Why Teaching Kindness in Schools Is Essential to Reduce Bullying” to be fascinating. I loved this quote within the article from Rutgers University psychology professor Maurice Elias: “Kindness can be taught, and it is a defining aspect of civilized human life. It belongs in every home, school, neighborhood and society.” I am very glad that our School Board is proactively teaching kindness in our schools and that Provo City has gotten involved in promoting kindness generally and helping with Kindness Week specifically.
I worry about civility in the public square. Kindness in the political sphere should include a willingness to listen, to seek to understand and to look for common ground. We can defend positions passionately and learn to disagree respectfully. We should not impute motives or malign intentions that we may not perfectly understand. Better solutions can result when opinions and positions are carefully considered in an atmosphere of mutual respect. I recently read an excellent book proposing that we will get better outcomes when we learn to disagree better, not less. The book is titled “Love Your Enemies: How Decent People Can Save America from Our Culture of Contempt”, by Arthur C. Brooks. My colleagues on the Provo City Council have been good examples of how to do this right. We can freely debate and disagree without being disagreeable, and that has been one of the joys of my recent Council service.
Our community in Provo has historically done well in showing kindness. You are more likely to find a smile, kind words and a helping hand here than in most other places. It is one of those intangibles that makes people want to live here and/or raise a family here.
Where does kindness start? With you and with me – as individuals. I hope that we maintain it and strengthen it as a community value through our individual choices. As we each endeavor to spread kindness, our families, our neighborhoods and our entire community will be blessed and enriched.
Dave and his wife Susan have lived in Provo for over 35 years and have raised their six children here. Dave holds a master's degree in computer science and an MBA from BYU. He is an entrepreneur who has started several tech businesses. Dave has served on the City Council since 2014 as the City-Wide I representative and is currently serving as the Council Chair.