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April 14th, 2016

what a million acts of kindness looks like

By KIND Editor

Words by Genevieve Ang

Brian Williams was only leading his second high school assembly when he met a girl that would change his life. He had been going to schools to challenge students and teachers to do one daily act of kindness for fifteen days, and even though this particular assembly was nothing special, — “this was in the very early days and I wasn’t that good; half of the audience was just staring into space” — for some reason, the message really impacted one girl.

He returned home that night to an anonymous email in his inbox, from a girl in the school who shared about her struggles with narcolepsy and the medication she was taking to treat it. “She said specifically, ‘I’m taking up space in the halls; I’m running away from life and I’m running fast. Please help.’” He immediately took it to the school, fearing that the student was close to suicide. They responded swiftly, asking the student to come to a Think Kindness event over the weekend where they were going to feed the homeless as a school community. “We wanted her to know that her life matters and that she could help others,” Brian says.

After that homeless feeding event — that girl never approached Brian, he didn’t even have any way to know if she was there — another email. This time, a marked change. She had gone to the event as they had asked, and had had a long conversation with one of the homeless people there. They had spoken for so long and so deeply that at the end of the conversation both were crying, and the homeless person had given her a hug. That hug showed her that her life does matter, she said.

“I mean, that’s transformation right there!” Brian says. “That girl made me want to pursue this as a career. She was the one who made me think, okay, kindness actually works, and I should invest my time in this.”

Brian Williams started Think Kindness eight years ago. His dad, living in Nevada with the rest of his family, had been diagnosed with an autoimmune disease. Brian, living in Southern California and working in one of the largest commodity brokerages in the region, was stunned by the news. “It really put my life into perspective and made me think, is this really what I wanted to do with my life and does this really justify being away from my family?” He knew in his heart his job was challenging and he thrived at it, but that he wanted to make a bigger impact on the world.

During a call with one of his mentors discussing this very question, the mentor challenged him, “What if you could show the world a million acts of kindness. What would that symbolize?”

Brian took that challenge pretty literally, and Think Kindness was born a few months after, committed to inspiring school communities to enact and document a daily act of kindness every day for fifteen days. “I didn’t want it to just be a one hour presentation and that’s it. I wanted to test drive making a difference in these kids’ lives, for them to test drive being kind to each other and to take that and apply that to their current lives and future careers,” Brian says.

It’s a challenge that schools have taken seriously. Think Kindness has documented over 250,000 acts of kindness since they first started — one school alone documented 22,000 acts of kindness in just fifteen days. And although the focus has always been on making an impact in the local community, even from the early days that kindness has spread globally. One of the very first schools that they worked with in 2009 started a shoe drive competition between a few of the local schools in Reno, NV, to see who could collect the most number of shoes for donation. These shoes were then donated to orphanages and rescue centers in Kenya and Ghana, and they’ve since collected over 100,000 shoes.

Brian is adamant that all acts of kindness, no matter how simple or how small, count. “If you open the door for others, you start noticing when other people open the door for you too,” he says. “It shifts your perception and when you’re kind to others, you realize how many people are kind to you.” Schools have noticed a difference, too. In schools where Think Kindness has visited, bullying has dropped 10–30% immediately.

It’s not easy to be kind, but Brian’s advice is to first make it a conscious effort. There are many easy ways to be kind in small but fun ways — like leaving a surprise encouragement post-it note on a co-worker’s computer, or paying for another family’s dessert when out at dinner. Brian’s favorite easy way to be kind though, is to send a text message to someone you haven’t spoken to in a while to tell them you’re thinking of them. Brian asked everyone in the audience at a teacher’s conference to do this, and by the next week a principal had come up to him saying that he was scheduling a vacation with a friend who he hadn’t spoken to in five years. One text message had brought them back together — one small act of kindness.

“Kindness is a form of bravery,” he says. “It’s not easy behavior but you will notice a substantial change in your life. If you want to have a happy life — kindness yields happiness.”

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