In 2012, I landed an amazing internship – the type of internship that you could only land through a lot of hard work and a decent amount of nepotism (which, in full disclosure, I had) – it was the internship that dreams were made of. Little did I know, my internship dream would evolve into a nightmare overnight.
It was one of the worst experiences of my life. The full-time staff was cliquey and exclusive. They drew a line and quickly identified themselves as the “us’s” and the interns as the “them’s” – and we were not allowed to cross over. At one point, I was even called names. My stomach twisted itself into knots before every shift. I felt intense relief at the end of each day, and intense dread as each free evening came to a close. The environment was toxic, and I was miserable.
On one particularly bad day, I struggled to fight back tears.
I made my way down a hallway, trying my best to keep my head down but passed one of my colleagues. He had always been an anomaly – in a difficult and cold office, he was consistently warm and friendly. As I passed him, he smiled at me and said easily, “Hey Nat – how are you doing?”
Strangely enough, his small, possibly unintentional act of kindness made me even more emotional – but for all of the right reasons. On a day when I was feeling demeaned and ignored, he validated my existence by using my name and asking about my well-being. This is a pleasantry that, on any other day, I might have taken for granted. But on this particular day, it was the fuel I needed to get through.
I think about this small act of kindness a lot. I think about how it completely changed the tone of my day. I think about how my colleague likely had very little insight into the battles I was fighting when he took time to say hello. I wonder about my own actions and if I’ve ever exacerbated the weight of someone’s day or if an unintentional kindness on my part alleviated it.
In July of this past year, I went on Twitter after returning from my destination wedding and I was appalled by the intercourse. Mudslinging had become the norm. Rude, aggressive, dismissive commentary filled my feed – commentary that, before my wedding, I had found funny and entertaining. But after being out of our social climate for a week and a half and being surrounded by people sharing in real love with me, I was no longer amused. It hurt my heart to read the vitriolic exchanges that were flowing so freely in 140 characters or less. I knew I wanted to contribute more than my opinion, and The Kind Coalition was born.
The Kind Coalition is an apparel and home goods company with an emphasis on kindness.
I was lucky enough to team up with three amazing anti-bullying non-profits, and 50% of the TKC profits will be donated to support their initiatives.
When I reached out to No Bully to ask them to partner, they generously invited me to attend one of their Solution Coach Trainings. Calling upon what I learned from reading Shonda Rhimes’ “Year of Yes,” I willingly accepted. I honestly had no idea what I had agreed to, but I was eager to see, up close and in person, the types of initiatives that The Kind Coalition would be supporting.
I walked into the training and took my seat – the room was filled with Los Angeles based educators.
The training leader opened with an anecdote that will stay with me for the rest of my life:
An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life:
“A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy.
“It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil–he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.”
He continued, “The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you–and inside every other person, too.”
The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather: “Which wolf will win?”
The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”
Like I said – I had no idea what I was in for, but with one short anecdote, I knew it was going to be good.
The majority of the training was spent equipping the educators with the tools to combat bullying in their schools using No Bully’s Solution Teams tactic.
No Bully developed Solution Team as a method of intervention that any teacher or staff member can implement to respond to bullying at their school. When a student is the target of bullying, the Solution Coach convenes a Solution Team comprised of the bully, bully-followers and positive peer leaders; assures them they are not in trouble; walks them into the shoes of the target so that they feel what the target feeling; and asks the students what they can do or stop doing to end the bullying. Solution teams are non-punitive and tap into and leverage empathy amongst the students – they’re an active lesson in SEL – social emotional learning.
The most fascinating part of this process is that it asks the bully to be part of the solution without ever being identified as the bully. When this was explained, I was nothing but skeptical: how could anyone expect that the person doing the bullying would have enough self-awareness and understanding to provide a solution to the problem that THEY had caused?
We broke off into groups (a side note: many thanks to the school that let me be part of their team!) and ran mock solution teams. Each educator had a chance to be the team leader, while the others acted as young students who were asked to be part of the solution.
As the leader took his or her turn walking everyone through mock bullying occurrences, I began to understand why a bully might rise to the occasion. Rather than accuse the students of making the child feel left out or bullied, it was the solution coach’s job to evoke a sense of compassion and empowerment. A solution coach patiently explains the bullied child’s feelings to the group and asks for their help in trying to rectify it. When executed successfully, the children have a greater sense of understanding and compassion for the bullied child, as well as a feeling of pride in being “specially selected” to contribute and execute solutions.
I began to think of this in terms of adult behavior – after all, that’s what inspired The Kind Coalition to begin with: a sense of extreme disappointment in the ways in which we, as adults, have come to treat each other. I realized that, any time an environment becomes hostile, it’s because a line has been drawn: we identify the “us’s” and the “them’s,” and we don’t cross that line for fear of being misidentified. Moreover, we go out of our way to let people know which team we’re on.
The Solution Team erases the line. It erases the identifications. It even absolves the bully. It creates a collective “we” with one common goal: kindness.
The Solution Team forgives past wrongs and instead, looks to a brighter future where everyone is part of the cure.
We need a societal solution team to help us refocus. We’ve become so caught up in labels, and blame and mudslinging that we’ve forgotten the very humanity that binds us and makes us relatable. At the end of the day, kindness is for everyone. Kindness is non-partisan. It’s non-gender conforming. It’s non-age specific. Kindness doesn’t discriminate. Kindness doesn’t ask that we be the same as one another, but that we be respectful in our differences.
This new year, the battle of the wolves inside of us continues, and we continue to be faced with a choice: will we allow ourselves to grow in compassion or succumb to division?
Compassion is the springboard for kindness – and in turn, kindness strengthens our ability to be compassionate.
I was so moved by No Bully’s work that I’ve teamed up with them for an exciting new initiative that I can’t wait to share with you!!
In 2012, a colleague extended a small act of kindness – just by saying hello. Nearly seven years later, I’m writing about it to you in a blog post. I’m proof that a small act of kindness can reverberate through hearts, minds, and years. This year, we have the chance to come together to form the biggest solution team yet. I can’t help but wonder what the ripple effects of it could be.