On Friday morning, Aug. 17, a few hundred students from Technology High School gathered in the Person Theatre on Sonoma State University campus to hear Houston Kraft, Kindness Advocate, speak about how kindness makes the world and people better and more importantly, how students can initiate practicing more kindness in their lives, their schools and their community.
“We know kindness is a worthwhile concept,” said Houston Kraft as part of his speech to the students. “Our number one job as people is kindness. I think we get so distracted by what our life is supposed to be like. But at the end of the day, if our life is built on relationships, which I think it is, no matter what our life is like it will be around people. So I think our number one job as human beings is the exercise of kindness.”
Using many examples from his own life, Kraft empathized with the students and admitted that kindness is harder than it looks. Most people agree it is a worthwhile cause, so it is not a question of whether or not to practice kindness. More so, it is a question of what gets in the way. Factors like incompetence in the skill of empathy; insecurity of avoiding situations one is afraid of; inconvenience of already having too much stress in one’s own life to help others, or inconsistency – not having it as part of one’s lifestyle – all lead to people not practicing kindness as much as they know they should.
Kraft challenged the students to get over some of these barriers to kindness by engaging them, during the assembly, in various exercises with a partner they didn’t know well. After some initial giggling and feelings of awkwardness the students quickly embraced the exercises, learning something new about their partner – and themselves.
Several students from Technology High School had heard Kraft speak at the CADA (California Association of Directors of Activities) Student Leadership Conference in Santa Barbara in the summer of 2017 where he was the keynote speaker. For the past year they worked to have him speak at their own school.
“The kids loved him,” said Holly Campos, Associate Student Body Advisor for Technology High School. “They wanted to bring back what they learned and start doing this in their own school. It really changed the culture on campus.”
Kraft has been a professional speaker, leadership consultant and kindness advocate for eight years and has given speeches at approximately 600 schools as far away as Africa. He co-founded CharacterStrong which offers training and curriculum that creates more compassionate cultures in schools and communities.
Besides helping to make their world a better place, students also learn a lot about themselves. They learn to be confident, trust themselves and be comfortable with who they are, no matter what other people may think of them.
“Research shows that a typical high school student today has the same level of anxiety as a psychiatric patient from the 1950s,” said Kraft during the speech as he encouraged students to ask for help when needed, work together and live life as a collaborative effort with others. “What I realized is that even though all of us want to be kind, as soon as we get busy sometimes that practice of kindness is the first thing that goes. The more anxious I am, the more unempathetic I tend to be. Not because I want to, I just don’t always feel like it. How do I make sure that I’m not too busy to live a kind life, how do I make sure even when I’m frustrated, or tired, or even angry, I can still practice this thing that I believe in?”
Through using some specific tools and methodologies, Kraft motivated the students to work through those barriers to kindness to practice it more in their own lives. What the students learned that day – both at Technology High School and Tech Middle School – can be a lesson for all of us, children and adults alike.