For many schools, finding ways to connect students from different groups on campus is a big challenge. Kindness can help!
An act of kindness can be as easy as reaching out to get to know someone who is different from you -- saying hello and getting to know one another.
The first step is finding just one thing you have in common!
Research suggests that humans have a deeply rooted feeling to be kind and generous, but some obstacles can keep us from acting on those basic impulses. One of the biggest barriers to helping others is that of "group difference": we feel much less motivated to be kind or to help someone if they don’t seem to belong to our group —that is, if they’re not a member of our “in-group”—and we may even feel hostile toward members of an “out-group.”
The good news is that studies show that we can easily change who we consider to be part of our "in-group". So a great way to encourage kindness and develop friendships is to identify things you have in common with another person - even if similarities don't seem very obvious at first. For example, in one study, people were more likely to help a fallen jogger when the jogger was a fellow fan of the same soccer team than when the jogger was a fan of a rival team (as indicated by their shirt). But when participants were reminded of a shared identity with the fallen rival (being a soccer fan), they were more likely to help than they were to help a non-fan.
How can this information help you and your students at school? The exercise below from the Greater Good Science Center is designed to help expand students' sense of shared identity with others. This works really when you have different groups on campus that don't always socialize or mingle together. It will take just 15 minutes of your classroom time, but the impact for your school culture can be long lasting. You may even want to encourage your students to do this exercise with a different person at least once per week.
How It Works:
1. Think of a person in your life who seems to be very different from you in every way that you can imagine. They might have different interests, different religious or political beliefs, or different life experiences. They may even be someone with whom you have had a personal conflict, or who belongs to a group that has been in conflict with a group to which you belong.
2. Next, make a list of all of the things that you most likely share in common with this person. Perhaps you both go to the same school, have a class or two together, or live in the same neighborhood. Maybe you both have siblings or have parents who are divorced. Maybe you have had shared experiences, played a similar sport (or played some sport), seen the same movie, read the same book, shopped at the same grocery store. At the broadest level, you both belong to the human species, which means that you share 99.9% of your DNA!
3. Review this list of commonalities. How do they make you see this person in a new light? Instead of simply seeing this person as someone unfamiliar to you, or as a member of an out-group, now try to see this person as an individual, one whose tastes and experiences might overlap with yours in certain ways.
4. Repeat this exercise whenever you meet someone who initially seems different from you, with whom you have a conflict, or who makes you feel uncomfortable.
We would love to hear from you if you try this exercise with your students! Please reply to this post or on Facebook. We believe that kindness and friendship can bring people closer together. Thank you to the Greater Good Science Center for this wonderful activity that works to achieve that goal.
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Note From the Founder
Hello. I am the founder of the 21 Day Kindness Challenge Program.