Kindness is a practice.

About 6 years ago, I was on a plane next to a woman who was relentlessly energetic and fidgety. I was tired and wanted to take a nap. But before I could go into “ignore mode,” she tapped me on the shoulder to introduce herself.

“Hi, my name is Helga!”

We got to talking and eventually it came up that I had started an organization in high school called R.A.K.E. (Random Acts of Kindness, Etc.). As I described what we did, Helga got very serious and told me that she thought “there was nothing more important in the world than Kindness.” I was curious why she was so passionate and, as the plane took off, she dove into a story about the last time she had flown; it was 3 years past and she was en route to Arizona because she had gotten sudden news her Dad’s health was on the decline. Just as the plane was about to depart to Phoenix, her father’s physician called to inform her that her dad had rather suddenly passed away. For the 3 hour plane ride, she sat in stunned silence around strangers.

When she arrived to the airport in Arizona, she walked to the nearest wall, sat down, and cried.

And here is the part I’ll never forget about Helga’s story. For 2 hours she sat and wept while thousands walked to and fro in the airport. Helga looked at me and said, “Houston, not a single person stopped and asked if I was okay that day. Not one person. It was that day that I realized how much we need each other. It was that day I realized that Kindness Isn’t Normal.”

Kindness Isn’t Normal. That has stuck with me all these years – especially now that I work in schools nationwide speaking about compassion, kindness, empathy, and love. I’m reminded all the time that, for many of us (especially young people – but certainly not exclusively), Kindness is NOT usually our default setting. We spend so much time worrying about our problems, our lives, our comfort, our insecurities, getting to our flight – that we walk by or ignore people in need of Kindness every day. I’m oftentimes so worried about ME that I’m really bad at taking care of YOU.

So, I’ve made it my mission to do my part in making Kindness Normal. To share stories with students, teachers, and parents about our need for character and compassion. To provide young people with practical ways to exercise Kindness (they don’t always know what it looks like!). And, for me? I’m always be on the lookout for Helga’s—for the little opportunities that surround me every day to practice making Kindness my default setting.

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