ELLEN M. BANNER / THE SEATTLE TIMES Andy Smallman, co-founder of Puget Sound Community School in Seattle,
looks out from his office behind a school logo. He teaches the
school's online class in kindness.
Seattle Times education reporter
If you recently found a shiny gold dollar coin in downtown Bellevue,
thank the kindness class. Ditto if you stumbled upon a piece of glass
art in Pioneer Square, or a lottery ticket taped to a bus shelter
with a note saying, "This may be your lucky day."
Since mid-September, the 250 people in Puget Sound Community School's
online course learned about kindness by practicing it.
Along the way, they took emotional risks, repaired relationships,
improved their outlook on the world, and realized that kindness is
Signing up for the class "just felt like the right thing to do in
order to step outside of myself and see the world as a helpful, kind
place, as opposed to a frightening place," said Barbara Kyllingstad,
of Seattle, who enrolled as a way to combat the isolation she's felt
since she got laid off from Washington Mutual this year.
"I feel a lot more peaceful and positive about the world."
The phrase "random acts of kindness" first showed up at least a
decade ago, a play on the expression "random acts of violence." Since
then, books, movies and even national organizations have sprung up to
keep the trend going.
Puget Sound Community School's kindness class ‹ now in its 15th year
‹ is a homegrown example that this year drew a record number of
students. A few were teenagers who attend the small, private school
near the Chinatown International District, which serves grades six
through 12, but many were friends and friends of friends who live as
far away as Poland.
Class instructor Andy Smallman, co-founder of the school, calls it a
Smallman offered his first kindness class just to the teens at his
school, where creating a nurturing environment is central to the
educational philosophy. It was so successful he offered the second
class online, inviting anyone, anywhere, of any age, to sign up.
"It was the idea of throwing a little pebble into a pond and seeing
how far the ripples would go," he said.
The first assignment: Do something kind for yourself. Like airplane
passengers instructed to put on their own oxygen masks first in an
emergency, we all need to tend to ourselves before we can care for
others, Smallman says.
The second assignment: Do something kind for someone you love.
Then for a neighbor. Then for a stranger.
Smallman also stretches the definition of kindness. Assignment No.
10, for example, was to do something useful.
Class members wrote anonymous compliments to co-workers, left
homegrown pears out for passers-by, cleaned street storm drains,
picked up trash and slipped a $20 bill inside the next empty cup that
a barista would pick up.
A woman who lives in Astoria, Ore., bought a $15 Fred Meyer gift card
and left it on the windshield for a young mother who had just entered
a nearby unemployment/welfare office.
Another kindness student, after running a half-marathon, gave her
participation medal to the 76-year-old man who finished last, because
race organizers by then had run out of medals.
Coffee for officers
Shortly after the killing of the four Lakewood police officers, Chris
Falskow, a 48-year-old real-estate agent and a board member at
Smallman's school, went to a Starbucks near his office where officers
from Seattle's Harbor Patrol often go, and paid in advance for their
Falskow says he was inspired by an Edmonds man who also bought coffee
for police officers ‹ evidence, he says, that one kind act often
"If more people realize what they do with their acts of kindness ...
we will live in a better place," he said.
Victoria Clearwater, who has a child at the school, said she was
struck by how much these small acts of kindness enrich her own life.
"When a kinder option is chosen, it truly radiates out and comes back
Smallman asked class members to share reports of their deeds on the
class homepage, and to reflect on their feelings about what they've
done. But since it was an informal class, they weren't compelled to
do so. There were no grades or credit, although students at the
school could apply the activities to some requirements there.
Some participants chose not to write about what they've done because
they felt that would be self-serving. In past classes, Smallman says,
some have made a strong case that every kind act is ultimately
selfish. And there's probably some truth to that, he said, but he
personally doesn't care.
To him, it's about forging ties among people. "If I'm doing something
nice for you, of course I'm doing something nice for me because we're
connected," he said.
Some people also question whether small kindnesses add up to much.
Smallman says he tells students that they just don't know, that what
might seem insignificant on the surface may actually have a large
He recounted a friend's story about a boy who, after a storm, was
throwing starfish back into the sea. An old man asked whether helping
just a few of them mattered.
The boy threw another into the water and said, "Makes a difference to
Linda Shaw: 206-464-2359 or firstname.lastname@example.org
To see all the assignments and reports from the Kindness Class, see:
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