The Emerging Science of Kindness
I’ve been revising a novel I finished writing ten years ago. In the process, I discovered there’s such a thing as the emerging science of kindness. It’s real. It’s a thing, and my story happens to be a case study for this scientific undertaking. I love how the Lord connects the dots of my life.
As a storyteller, I start by recognizing the fascination factor of whatever story I’m telling. In my case, my fascination factor comes as a question with a definitive answer.
What happens when we treat people who appear unlovable as if they were high potential instead of highly avoidable? We find out that kindness has a power all its own.
I am always on the lookout for God’s blessings in my life. Without a doubt, the most remarkable blessing I’ve experienced lately has been being a prison volunteer. For almost two years, I’ve been teaching classes, facilitating a book club, and mentoring a Toastmaster club at a medium-security state prison that houses approximately 1100 male felons. It would be bad-mannered of me not to give glory to the Lord for what I’ve seen Him do for a small group of men inside a large institution.
My role as a volunteer educator, though unpaid, is an educator’s dream. What teacher wouldn’t love having the attention of a captive audience? Men who are hungry for educational programming, who can’t leave and have nothing better to do, that’s a teacher’s ideal classroom—that is, if you were born to teach. Educators live for the moments when a lightbulb above the head comes on. I know for me, it’s a thrill. I feel useful, effective, and appreciated. In a correctional setting, I’m guaranteed head lightbulbs quite often.
Because I’m there on a weekly basis, I’ve been blessed to witness convicted criminals cultivate their hidden potential. One of my favorite examples is a young offender who came to my Coloring Therapy for the Soul class with his hyper-active switch turned to full blast. As a public school student, this kid would have been labeled annoying, ADHD, and so on. His curiosity ignited, he flitted around the room, talking to everyone, not being mindful at all. He couldn’t finish a simple page. A few classes into it, he learned how to slow down his brain activity by coloring, By doing one thing, not everything, he found peace. He never knew he could settle himself down. No one ever taught him how to do that. Hmmm. That’s money in the bank for a teacher like me.
This young man decided to improve his penmanship even though the society he’s going back to will be mostly digital and clickable. Why would a young man go back to writing rows of letters on lined school paper? I told him to imagine what it would be like to have to write (or read) an important, perhaps life-saving note, only to have it be impossible to read. And then I added, “How about love letters? Aren’t they worth your time and effort? I’m telling you, no girl’s going to save your text messages in a shoebox after falling in love with you. That got him to care about something he had given up caring about. Ka-ching!
Another inmate went from living a life of a total atheist to living a brand new life as a totally forgiven Christian man. He has a deep appreciation for what God has done for him through the kindness of strangers. By strangers, he means volunteers like myself, who show up and show him he’s worthy of our attention. He has discovered that he can read out loud in front of a group, something he could not do before. He also found out he’s capable of expressing thoughts and feelings through poetry. He writes melodious poems to go along with his exquisite artwork. We call him the Tape Artist because he colors with craft tape.
Repairing Youthful Legacies
I’ve listened to several Toastmasters who have a lot to say about repairing their youthful legacies. Some even have skills that indicate a professional speaking career is not only possible but probable. It's an honor to observe men as they develop meaningful, personal mission statements and recalibrate their moral compasses while developing talents they didn’t know they had.
No matter where or how I volunteer, there’s always overwhelming evidence of God changing the hearts and minds of prisoners. It’s a beautiful thing to see inmates replace the hopelessness of incarceration with the freedom of a renewed sense of purpose. Believe me, there’s nothing like seeing the power of kindness at work, which is why I’m thinking of changing the title of my novel to The Emerging Science of Kindness.