A few years back, a resident of Knotty Ash in Liverpool passed away and there was an out pouring of love for the man. Ken Dodd. I was never a big fan but his number one hit 'Happiness' did resonant with me . If you read the lyrics without knowing its his song, they are very poignant.
To me this world is a wonderful place
And I'm the luckiest human in the whole human race
I've got no silver and I've got no gold
But I've got happiness in my soul
Happiness to me is an ocean tide
Or a sunset fading on a mountain side
A big old heaven full of stars up above
When I'm in the arms of the one I love
Happiness, happiness, the greatest gift that I possess
I thank the Lord that I've been blessed
With more than my share of happiness
Happiness is a field of grain
Turning its face to the falling rain
I can see it in the sunshine, I breathe it in the air
Happiness happiness everywhere
A wise old man told me one time
Happiness is a frame of mind
When you go to measuring my success
Don't count my money count my happiness.
How true is this. When we have happiness, we are content. But what makes us happy? Love, money, family, chocolate? I think it comes down to kindness. The kindness of our friends, family, workmates. The kindness of strangers.
I've had a very turbulent few years in the teaching profession. I had spent 17 years at one school, making my way up to Deputy and at times acting-head. Then a new head arrived. The school became toxic. The acts of kindness stopped. People put up shields and the atmosphere changed. It was seen as a weakness by those in charge. It almost became a commodity that was seen as illegal and only shared in hiding. A clandestine treat. The regular bottles of full fat coke, iced bun or warm croissant stopped , as people protected there own mind.
It seems mad, at a time like this, the thing we needed most , kindness, was at its rarest. Danny Wallace spoke of random acts of kindness and if you type this in to Google, you will find a multitude of sites dedicated to these small acts. My favourite was; upon entering the Disney Magic Kingdom, one of the security guards said to a young girl in full princess outfit ‘Excuse me Princess, can I have your autograph.’ The book was filled with children’s scribbles, as the guard asked the same question of many little Princesses. The children could not get over the fact that the guard thought they were a real princesses.
This chap didn't have to do this. There was nothing in it for him, accept that feeling of happiness he got when his kindness touched another.
But in our modern life, its very easy to over look these small things. In the rush to be the perfect teacher, the perfect dad, the perfect friend etc. we struggle to find time to stop, take a breath, and think what should I do that will make life a little bit better.
I now teach in a school that is often seen by parents as a private school. It is close to one of the richest neighbourhoods in the country and some parents think nothing of lavishing all sorts on their overindulged off-spring. At Christmas, I received a lovely metallic water bottle from a child. I was casually drinking from it and my wife spotted the price on the bottom.£60! For a water bottle. Now it's lovely, don't get me wrong, but at my old school families were struggling to live on that for a week. Yes, it made me a little happier and it does keep my drinks nice and cool, but did it create happiness for the giver or was it something they thought they had to do for their child's teacher. I remember, receiving a Bath Basketball set from a child at my old school. Unfortunately, the packaging was open and bits were missing. But he cared, he smiled widely as he gave it to me. He went home feeling better and knowing that he had been kind.
Now Danny Wallace had made me think about kindness a little more but I think it was RJ Palacio that thrust it to the forefront of my teachers mind. I spent a year at school on the Jurassic Coast and they just happened to have 30 copies of Wonder. The Deputy told me that I had better use them as no one had ever touched them before. Little did I know the effect it would have on my class and me.
Now some of the Americanism can seem twee and candy sweet but at its heart is the need/requirement/obligation to be kind.“When given the choice between being right or being kind choose kind.”
My class had one young person in it, who's life was frightening. They had disclosed a year or so previously, and the day after, the step dad had killed himself. It was a family in turmoil. I attended every family meeting that year and when I left, I was saddest having to say goodbye to this young man. They were rude,they were surly, they were frustrating, they were violent but they had a good heart, a kind heart. Yes, I had to be 'cruel to be kind.' but they knew I cared. Too many people had left them or let them down. They absolutely loved Wonder.
In the playground, they would bully, pick on, intimidate, attack their fellow pupils. After reading Wonder, and we made a big point of focusing on Mr Brown's precepts, they changed. They saw that being kind rewarded them. They didn't become an angel and I do wonder what secondary school brought to them, but they were a better person for being kind.
“Kinder than is necessary. Because it's not enough to be kind. One should be kinder than needed.”
I think I've lived my teaching career by this mantra/quote. The young person above will live in my mind the longest, but I have been kicked, punched, spat at , sworn at and abused by many dozens of children over the years, and I would always respond by being just that little kinder.
Now the children I now teacher are the polar opposite of these rapscallions, but I sometimes feel they need kindness just as much. I can't keep up with the parents who spoil them and run them from club to club, or au pair to au pair. But, I can be kind. And Twitter has taught me kindness.
I was off work for nearly 18 months due to the toxicity of my old school. It has taken nearly four years for me to start liking myself again and this came down to people being kind. My counselor was kind. My current head, who knew me previously, was kind and gave me a job and a chance. A year six teacher at my new school, who I had never really spoken to, heard I liked writing and one morning he popped in with Stephen Kings book on how to write. He didn't have to do that. He was being kind. But the people of twitter have shown me kindness and got me fully back on my feet. It's a long road to self-love but the Twitterati have been part of this recovery.
A girl in my class was surreptitiously reading Twister by Juliette Forrest in class, when she should of been writing. "But, Mr H, it's so good." She pleaded. I posted this online and Juliette wrote to the girl (very wealthy parents) and sent a bookmark and badges. To see that girls face was to see that an act of kindness, more than anything, can bring happiness. This one act had a major impact on the class as a whole, not only making them lovers of reading but also making them kinder individuals.
So now, I know the value of kindness, I need to be a better practitioner. Yes, I want to be kind, but my reserve and fear of rejection still inhibits it. Perhaps this blog will motivate/inspire (not sure of correct word) me to become a kinder person.
“We carry with us, as human beings, not just the capacity to be kind, but the very choice of kindness.”