In March, the Catholic sisters of the Upper Mississippi River Valley instituted a “Kindness: Get In The Habit” campaign. Sister Toni Harris, O.P., prioress of the Dominican Sisters of Sinsinawa, explained why: “Simple acts of kindness can change the world, one person at a time. We need these actions right now, especially.”

If Sister Toni sounds idealistic or naive to you, check out how many national and international efforts echo the sisters. There are numerous TED talks, YouTube videos, and Wikipedia entries, plus the St. John’s Episcopal website, stjohnsdbq.org, kindness.org, kindnessiseverything.com, tkckindness.org, kindnesseveryday.org, spreadkindness.org, and contributions on HarvardHealth. All these programs testify to the huge potential payoff for taking kindness seriously.

St. John’s Episcopal Church in Dubuque has declared September 2021 #SpreadKindnessdbq month, and the Dubuque City Council is supporting the effort by proclaiming September “St. John’s Community Kindness Month.”

St. John’s parishioners are working in teams to perform random acts of kindness in the community; helping elementary students at St. Mark Youth Enrichment create kindness art; celebrating kindness with an original song written for this campaign; attending a three-part sermon series on the Power of Kind Words, the Power of Kind Deeds, and the Power of Kind Heart; and learning in the church’s adult forum about a distinctively Christian understanding of kindness.

What do we mean by kindness? A kind act is one that enhances the life of an individual or a community and that’s done without any expectation of return or reward. St. John’s goal is to get the whole greater Dubuque community thinking about kindness and engaging in acts of kindness.

If you’re Christian, it should be easy, because one of the Bible’s prominent messages is that God is loving kindness. This is who or what God is. The Hebrew word for this is hesed (also spelled chesed and heced), which is used almost 250 times in the Old Testament to label God’s mercy, goodness, favor and love for God’s people. So the chorus of the special song that Kate Meyrick composed for the St. John’s campaign says:

“Your lovingkindness flows

Like a river wide

Your mercy washing over me.

So take my hands and feet

Lord, and let me be

Your lovingkindness to all I meet.”

Wait ‘til you hear Kate sing this! Our opportunity as Christians is to be God’s lovingkindness to everyone we meet.

And, if you’re not Christian, kindness can support your self-improvement efforts. Let’s say your New Year’s resolution is to be less defensive, judgmental, money-focused or racist. It’s hard to make progress by “not doing” things; you need to figure out what “to do” instead. Kindness can become your default alternative. There’s more to each of these improvements, but genuine, spontaneous, humble acts of kindness are definitely a good start.

So please join those of us at St. John’s Episcopal in our efforts to change the polarization that divides us so much by being kind — to ourselves, those around us and the world we inhabit.

Stewart came to Dubuque in 2001 to be vice president for academic affairs at the University of Dubuque. In 2010, he became special assistant to the president, and he retired in 2016. Stewart serves on the board of the Multicultural Family Center and works with the Community Foundation of Greater Dubuque and with various nonprofits on diversity-equity-inclusion projects. He’s meeting convener and one of the spokespeople for the seven-person St. John’s Episcopal Kindness Team.

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