Kind Spring Revolution

Aug 21, 2013

[An upcoming op-ed for Yes Magazine.]  

A pioneer of the modern-day permaculture movement, Masanobu Fukuoka harbored simple yet radical ideas. His most penetrating insight as a farmer: we don't grow plants. Nature does. We just have to get out of the way.

Now science is telling us the same is true of generosity. We can’t teach someone to give; all we can do is create a context in which generosity blooms naturally. We can't rush it. Building inner ecologies requires us to plant seeds and trust. Sometimes the transformation is immediate. And sometimes, like bamboo that can take more than a century to flower, it requires patience. What matters is that we're cultivating the soil within.

Some years ago in Chicago, my teenage cousin and I were discussing the college pranks. As an activity they were creative, challenging, and collaborative—but also destructive. “What if we flipped them into kindness pranks?" The idea had legs. Soon after, a group of inspired volunteers got together and printed 100 "Smile Cards" that encouraged people to do anonymous acts of kindness and leave behind a card asking the recipient to pay it forward.

One hundred cards implied a potential of at least a hundred more kind acts in the world. That was encouragement enough for us.

What we discovered, though, was that the mere invitation to be kind created an internal shift. For many people, fruits ripened with the smallest of acts, like paying toll for the car behind you, picking up your neighbor’s trash, or thanking a bus driver. They came back to tell us some profoundly moving stories, that we started publishing on our website. That brought in more people. Many made unsolicited donations—often just a dollar—so we could print more cards. When a user asked for a "kindness buddy" to remind her to practice kindness, we launched an online community. To encourage more gifting within that community, we even launched an alternative currency called KarmaBucks.

Today, that gratitude model ripples on. Powered entirely by volunteers, millions of these cards are now floating around in 150 countries. Many more read the stories on the site. Goodness is spreading.

After a decade of building this concept, we're now launching a revamped portal: Kindspring.org  

Alongside many upgrades, Kind Spring has one major addition: the 30-Day Kindness Challenge. The idea is to perform a unique act of kindness every day for a month, share a reflection on it, and do it with a kindred community.

As a part of their internship, all our interns take on the Kindness Challenge. Initially, it’s easy. Give food to a homeless person, help with dishes, clean up a local park. Then, they get creative as their brains start building new neural pathways. Stand up for a bullied kid, give up your seat for an elder, help a janitor clean a public bathroom.

It’s in the last third that the magic really kicks in. You have to push your creativity but you’ve also built up some serious kindness muscle. At this point, Nature elegantly self-organizes your path in directions where growth is required.

I remember a young Vietnamese intern who joined us a couple of years ago. At the age of 12, she was in a car accident that took her mother’s life. The intense grief she experienced had held her in its grip ever since. On Day 22 of her kindness challenge, she wrote us a beautiful note that started with: "Today, I decided to be kind to myself. For the first time in my life, I visited my mom’s grave alone."

The beauty of that breakthrough was that we just held space for the invitation -- Nature did the heavy lifting. In that same spirit, we invite you to join the Kind Spring revolution.‚Äč


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"Service doesn't start when you have something to give; it blossoms naturally when you have nothing left to take."

"Real privilege lies in knowing that you have enough."