By Savka Wisecup
“Let us treat them with all the kindness which we would wish to develop in them.”
–Dr. Maria Montessori
The definition in the Cambridge English dictionary for kindness is “the quality of being generous, helpful and caring about other people or an act showing this quality.”
How do we learn kindness? Why is kindness important? Educators, philosophers, religious leaders, sociologists, scientific researchers, community leaders all agree having compassion and kindness supports everyone’s mental and physical well-being.
Kindness promotes a sense of belonging, reduces depression, builds self-esteem, increases acceptance and inclusivity, improves concentration and productivity and gives purpose and direction. These positive qualities can be credited to acts of kindness.
In her article, 8 Reasons for Teaching Kindness in School, Patty O’Grady, PhD, an expert in the area of neuroscience, writes that “kindness changes the brain by the experience of kindness. Children and adolescents do not learn kindness by only thinking about it and talking about it. Kindness is best learned by feeling it, so they can reproduce it. Kindness is an emotion that students feel and empathy is a strength that they share.”
Maurice Elias, professor at Rutgers University Psychology Department, says, “As a citizen, grandparent, father and professional, it is clear to me that the mission of schools must include teaching kindness. Without it, communities, families, schools, and classrooms become places of incivility, where lasting learning is unlikely to take place. Kindness can be taught, and it is a defining aspect of civilized human life. It belongs in every home, school, neighborhood and society.”
Dr. Maria Montessori promoted her teaching methodology for children to learn all subjects, but the most important aspect of a Montessori education was and still is “character development.” Her recognition of the importance of educating the “whole child” includes character development. To promote this development, Dr. Montessori created “Grace and Courtesy” lessons, which are practiced daily in Montessori classrooms. The children learn how to peacefully resolve conflicts, respect others, learn to listen, speak in a polite tone, assist and teach younger children, wait their turn, say please and thank you, and practice kindness with each other.
The power of modeling kindness by teachers, parents and community leaders is equally important in the development of peaceful and kind future citizens. This modeling of kindness, with gestures great and small, will impact all. Competition, achievement and success command our attention, but equally important is how we measure these qualities with kindness, compassion and integrity. In the December 2019 issue of Atlantic Magazine, author Allison Sweet Grant’s writes in her article, “Trying to Raise Successful Kids and Start Raising Kind Ones, that “we should encourage our children to do their best and to take pride and joy in their accomplishments; kindness doesn’t require sacrificing those things. The real test of parenting is not what your children achieve, but who they become and how they treat others. If you teach them to be kind, you’re not only setting your kids up for success. You’re setting up kids around them, too.” This statement, once again, declares the positive impact of kindness.
In Japan, World Kindness Day is celebrated annually on November 13. In the article “It’s Cool to be Kind” written by Christine O’Leary (Montessori International College), she describes how the “purpose of World Kindness Day is to look beyond ourselves, beyond the boundaries of our country, beyond our culture, our race and our religion, so that we realize we are citizens of the world. As world citizens, we are connected with every living thing, we have a commonality, and it is by focusing on what we have in common – not our differences – that we find likenesses and empathy for others. An important question to ask ourselves each day is: Am I contributing to unity or separation in this moment? If we do this, we are cultivating kindness and being co-creators of a better world.”
At Glebe Montessori School, we cultivate kindness each day with our students, for we honour Dr. Maria Montessori’s statement that “children are human beings to whom respect is due, superior to us by reason of their innocence and of the greater possibilities of their future.”
Savka Wisecup is a Montessori educational consultant.