Random Acts of Kindness Day was first created in Denver, Colorado, in 1995 by a small nonprofit organization, the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation (RAK). Nine years later it spread to New Zealand. Now, it often gets national recognition as World Kindness Day or National Random Acts of Kindness Day®. This year, we celebrate Random Acts of Kindness Day on Wednesday February 17. Random Acts of Kindness Week is February 14-20.
February has long been a month during which the notion of love is celebrated, whether we look at Valentine’s Day or at I Love to Read Month.
When I trained pre-service teachers at Aaniiih Nakoda College, I encouraged them to consider holding a classroom contest with their students from January 16—February 14 to see how many times the class catches others being kind to one another. I suggested the construction of a kindness tree whose leaves grow based on the number of times class members catch one another exhibiting one of the seven Native American sacred teachings or virtues. For example, when someone is caught in an act of honesty, truth, humility, love, wisdom, courage, or respect, that person’s name is written on a leaf with a brief note about the action.
I explained that this project works effectively at this time of year because Martin Luther King, Jr. (MLK) and Valentine were both social activists who fought for civil rights and against injustice. Just as MLK stood for peace, equality and justice—especially for African-Americans and the socially disadvantaged— “Valentinus,” from the Latin word for worthy, strong, or powerful, came to represent love. In 496 A.D., Pope Gelasius set aside February 14 to honor St. Valentine.
With such an activity as the kindness tree described above, we honor at least four different cultures. Isn’t that the kind of unity and honoring of diverse identities that we hope to instill? After all, kindness is not a small thing, but the greatest thing. If we all look for ways to make kindness the norm in our daily lives, we might make a habit of kindness—something that happens automatically as a conditioned response. In order for kindness to actually become a habit, we need to practice it so that it will become part of our everyday routine. A world in which kindness is performed out of habit would certainly be one worth living in.
According to RAK’s website, the organization is “upholding this annual tradition of celebrating kindness because we know everyone can use more kindness in their lives.” Considerable scientific evidence reveals the positive effects of performing kind acts for others as well as receiving or even witnessing kindness. Even the smallest act of kindness can change—or even save—a life. Because of these truths, in 2021, RAK encourages everyone “to Explore the Good and Make Kindness the Norm.”
In keeping with the theme of love and kindness, on February 6, the day before Super Bowl Sunday, Russell Wilson, quarterback for the Seattle Seahawks, was honored as the National Football League (NFL) Walter Payton Man of the Year.
In his acceptance speech, Wilson spoke about the power of love. He recalled his own father’s admiration for Walter Payton and thanked his father for sharing these words of wisdom: “Remember this one thing: love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love changes things.”
These words resonated with Wilson, whose father was likely paraphrasing biblical verses from Chapter 13 of 1 Corinthians. Prior to his rookie season, Wilson started visiting Seattle Children's hospital and never stopped going back, giving hope to the patients there. This act of kindness, as well as his other charitable actions, helped to earn him Man of the Year status.
With role models like Wilson and reminders like a kindness tree or Random Acts of Kindness Day, we can begin building a new routine of loving and caring based on the understanding that we all struggle and are capable of kindness. With intentional acts of kindness, we can change the world.