Craig and Marc Kielburger founded Free The Children and Me to We. Their biweekly Brain Storm column taps experts and readers for solutions to social issues.
Dave Carrol has a poorly kept secret life. By day, he's a pastor in charge of community outreach for Freedom House church in Brantford, Ont. By evening and weekend, Carrol dons the red mask, cape and puffy pectorals that turn him into Captain Kindness – a courtesy-crusading local celebrity who's a mainstay at community events.
"Our neighbourhoods can be transformed with kindness," the real-life superhero told us recently.
Eleven years ago, Carrol helped launch the Kindness Project – and that's when his alter-ego Captain Kindness was born. The project began as a free barbecue for marginalized people in a rough area of Brantford, and has grown into a campaign of benevolence engulfing entire elementary schools and residents at large.
People flock to Captain Kindness at fairs and festivals to share their latest – and their next – random acts of kindness. Carrol's favourite story is of a man in his mid-50s who chased the superhero in tights down the street to say he had met a man asking for change on the sidewalk that morning and decided to take him out for breakfast.
In our ever-busy, heads-down lives, it's easy to ignore the needs of others – or even our impulse toward simple gestures of courtesy like greeting our neighbours, holding open doors or letting another car pass. We require etiquette reminders on public transit to turn our headphones down and surrender our seats to the elderly. On the flip side, extraordinary gestures of generosity we hear about in the media–like buying coffee for the next hundred people in line–may seem too ambitious to emulate.
So how do we find that middle ground where courtesy and kindness are ordinary habits in our everyday routine?
"The best and easiest way to make an impact with kindness is to stop and really look around," says Carrol. "Identify the practical and social needs of your neighbourhood, then purposely choose one of those needs and take one step to meet it."
Even one small action creates a ripple effect. A 2010 study by researchers from Harvard and the University of California provides the first real evidence that kindness is contagious – that recipients of kind gestures tend to "pay it forward" by helping other people who are unrelated to the original gesture, launching a cascade of caring behaviour. A more recent study out of York University in Toronto says performing small acts of kindness every day for just one week can considerably increase our happiness.
Maybe that's motive for us all to be someone's Captain Kindness on a regular basis in 2015.
This week's question: What act of courtesy or kindness will you commit to in your daily routine to brighten someone else's day?
Chris Read, founder of the website Kindness Canada and CanadianDad.com
"One of the most obvious acts is to put your electronics away when talking to others. I also like to send out one tweet a day complimenting someone in hopes of bringing them a smile. There's always room for more kindness in the online world."
Dr. Lisa Ferrari, co-author of Gratitude & Kindness: A Modern Parents Guide to Raising Children in an Era of Entitlement
"Take your kids on kindness patrol. Create a stack of handmade thank-you cards blinged out with your kids' art and various messages, such as: 'Thank you for your patience,' 'Thank you for your smile,' 'Thank you for going above and beyond,' and more. Stuff your pockets with thank-you notes and hit the streets together to spot the good happening in your community!"
Lisa Bendall, creator of the Canadian blog 50GoodDeeds
"Keep your eyes and ears open as you go about your day, looking for any opportunity to make someone's day easier. It can even be as simple as uprighting that blown-over garbage can, or picking up doggie-doo before someone steps in it."
Have your say in the comment section.