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The lesson of kindness

Jessie Williams believes there is a lot of kindness that goes on unnoticed, leaving a negative impression about Americans as a whole as well as in each community.

She is doing her part to change that.

Williams decided to offer an extra credit opportunity for her Mineral Area College sociology students this past semester that focused on acts of kindness. The students who opted to do the project performed random acts of kindness and kept a journal of how those acts affected others as well as themselves.

The findings were encouraging.

“A lot of them did the kind things for their family,” Williams said. “They were surprised at how it enhanced their relationships with their family.”

Williams decided to offer the project after noting the reactions to an act of kindness she and her son often do at fast food restaurants. When they pull up to the window to pay the bill, they ask the amount of the bill for the car behind, then pay it.

“What surprised me more than anything was the reaction of the kids who took the money in the window,” Williams said. “They say, ‘You what? Why?’ And when I tell them it is just so they have a nice day, they say, ‘That’s so neat!’”

As Williams pointed out, acts of kindness affect more than the person for whom they are intended. They also affect those who see or learn of the kindness.

When Williams first offered the extra credit project, her students asked if the kindness only counted if they involved strangers.

“It seems like a no brainer, but we forget about being kind to people we love,” she told them. “If we really want to be kind to people, our family should be first.”

Approximately half her class chose to do the project. The numbers were evenly split between men and women, as well as by older and younger students.

As the semester went on, Williams noticed that her participating students began working harder on themselves in order to improve their relationships with others.

The project led to several discussions in class. Most people were grateful. However, when one student offered to open the door for a person on crutches, the person refused, saying, “I can do it myself.”

Williams urged her students not to let rejection stop them from being kind, because they have no way of knowing why their help was refused. In the above case, it could be that the offer was a negative reminder that the person now has lost independence. Opening the door, while an attempt to be kind, might be taking away one of the few things that person can do for himself right now. Offers of kindness might be refused for a number of reasons. The person might be deep in thought, grieving, or angry about something unrelated.

“When you do acts of kindness, it should not be with the expectation of something from someone in return, she explained. “You do it for you, because you want to be a better person. That other stuff is an extra gift.”

Among the acts her students performed: They changed tires, helped elderly women carry groceries to the car, and bought ice cream cones for children after hearing the mother did not have enough money left to buy dessert at a fast food restaurant.

Williams’ students realized that it made them happy to do something for other people. One student thought about everything his mother does for him. He did the dishes for her, and it made him feel good about himself, Williams related.

Williams plans to offer the project again in the fall semester. She hopes even more students will participate this time.

The Daily Journal challenges you to look for kind acts and share them with us for publication. Your stories may be submitted online by going to and clicking on Act of Kindness link. Or, you may report them to Paula Barr at or 573-431-2010 ext. 172.

Caught Being Kind will be published each Friday in the Daily Journal.

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