Looking at the side of an airplane, Orly Wahba saw a sign. On it, was written “Life Vest Inside,” soon to be the name of her non-profit centered around giving and a reminder that in difficult times, kindness keeps the world afloat.
A dream of hers since she was a little girl, Orly left her job as a middle school teacher in 2007 to commit herself completely to changing the world, one good deed at time. Today, the organization includes a team of kindness ambassadors from 120 countries around the world driven to break social barriers and an educational curriculum that spurs students to think critically about opportunities for kindness, empathy and compassion from as early as kindergarten.
“It’s not just about teaching kids facts and figures. It’s about teaching them to be well-rounded individuals—and character and values are at the core of that,” says Orly.
Orly tells her students that although they are one in seven billion people in the world, what matters most is that they are one. “When a person understands their value, they can see value in others,” she says.
While uprooting bullying, depression and low self-esteem, kindness also prompts success later in life. Just ask Orly, who had trouble in school, herself. A self-proclaimed “super-shy kid,” she always struggled with learning and fitting in. Things took a turn for the worse in her sophomore year of high school when a fire in her family home destroyed everything she owned. A year when one bad occurrence followed the next—her father also lost his business—she fell into a dark depression. For two months she stayed at home and nobody came to visit to see if she was okay. Yet, hitting rock bottom only gave her the opportunity to rise up.
“I made a promise to myself and it’s what’s guided me through my years teaching and what inspires my work at Life Vest Inside,” Orly says. “It was a promise to be there for people the way that I wished somebody would’ve been there for me. But more than that, it was to be able to see people, the way I wished somebody would’ve seen me.”
She realized that the more she gave, the more she healed. The reason, she says, is because when we engage in kindness, we capture a glimpse of our potential. Orly, former shy-girl, went on to speak at TED2013 on the magic of kindness and authored The Kindness Boomerang: How to Save the World (and Yourself) Through 365 Daily Acts. Organized by categories including home, nature and the workplace, Orly knows of companies that start their meetings by reading from a page of her book.
All this was possible thanks to the attention she received from creating a single video, also called Kindness Boomerang, that went viral in 2011 and is currently at over 26,000,000 views and counting. Putting her film degree to use, she captured how kindness has the ability to be passed on from one stranger to the next. Sparking what she calls a “kindness revolution,” it was featured on NBC, CBS and Adweek.
“When we throw something positive out there into the world, we create a ripple effect with no logical end,” Orly says. “You never know who is going to be touched by it.”
Here, Orly starts with the next generation and advises us how to teach our children to be kind:
Empower them, first and foremost
When you teach a person to understand their value, kindness is a byproduct of that. Unkindness can exist because people do not see themselves as having worth. Empowerment leads to greater academic success, greater interpersonal relationships and a more positive sense of self. It helps children understand their place within this world, gives them purpose and belonging and shows them that you truly validate them—you demonstrate that their value is based on the amount of lives that they touch; not superficial things.
Help them see their value
One day, I asked my students, “If you had a 1,000-piece puzzle and one piece was missing, would you hang it up on the wall?” All the kids said no. I asked again, “You have 999 other pieces and you aren’t going to hang it because you are missing one?” Each and every one of us makes a difference in our own way. The way to teach is not through “do this; don’t do that”—but to allow them to get there on their own.
Watch for small acts of kindness around you
The more we train our eyes to see kindness, the more likely we are to see more kindness reflected back at us.
Get in the habit of giving back
Participation is the greatest learning technique. On Monday nights, my students and I would package and deliver food to those in need. On Fridays, we spent time with senior citizens. It wasn’t simply about the the actions—it was about the engagement and teaching them to interact. Today, so many people forget how important actual human connection is and how to interact face-to-face.
Make it academic
In the curriculum I created, students still study traditional subjects, but they do so through the lens of kindness—whether through the stories we teach, the questions we ask or the assignments we give. Incorporate phrases like “this person shared with this person” into math equations. In social studies, I have them write a journal entry about a historical person’s character and values.
Embody it in the home
Create a gratitude chart where each morning you ask your children something they are grateful for and write it down in front of them. Make some positive affirmation jars and pick out a positive affirmation to read each day to them. Take the time to sit around the table together and share stories that demonstrate kindness. You have to live the message that you’re trying to instill. Give them the opportunity to highlight the good that they’ve done and be proud of it. Spend time with them before they go to sleep at night. Hug them. When a parent shows love and appreciation for their child, the child feels it and they’re more likely to be a kinder, more empathetic, more caring individual.
Reinforce their good deeds
When you give them a small prize when they are kind, it makes a difference. If you give them something sweet, it connects kindness to the taste. Now, they automatically associate something sweet with kindness.
Show that we’re in this life together
Competitiveness is important, but there are positive and negative kinds. We, as a society, have a belief that in order for one person to succeed, someone else has to fail—but that’s not the case. If a child loses a sports game, it’s not about downplaying the fact that they lost, it’s about encouraging them to continue to try and to persevere.
Orly is planning a cross-country tour from May until mid-June to speak in schools, community centers and workplaces in order to increase the kindness consciousness in the U.S.
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Image courtesy of Ivanka Trump
Illustration by Jonny Ruzzo