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Competing voices in the domed meeting room jumbled together in an echo, as students instructed their blindfolded partner to pick up a balled-up paper to fling it at other blindfolded contestants in a last-person-standing style game. The activity concluded the Kindness Club retreat at Provo Library, in which students attended seminars and group activities related to the Kindness Club and club events. Teachers asked students about their takeaways.

“With all of this noise coming from separate leaders, it’s hard to know who to trust. You have to listen closely.”

“I think we do this practice to build trust with one another. We have to practice listening to our peers with patience.”

One teacher nodded, pausing before extrapolating on the analogy forwarded in the activity.

“Who else could be speaking, then? Why do you think we practiced both listening and instructing?”

The students realized what he was implying. This is training to lead peers through sensitive communication.

“When you go back to school, you need to make sure that you’re leading others through kind, firm words.”

The Kindness Club retreat helped champion empathy, sympathy, and active listening– and it was also a reminder that the club intends to create empathetic leaders who can use their influence to create inclusion.

All of the Kindness Club students started their day with a seminar on creating inclusive spaces from Anthony Bates, BYU’s Director of the Student Leadership. Bates’ seminar used the analogy that creating a safe space was like building a house with a foundation, walls, and a roof. The foundation was representative of the founding experiences that make up someone’s worldview– a person’s background, knowledge, and life experiences are the aggregate that makes up someone’s perspective. That perspective is what informs their principles and values.

From the foundation, Bates continued his conceit, describing the walls as tools and skills that are required. The tools– identity, difference, culture, ethnicity, race, and stereotypes. Bates offered his definition for stereotypes. “It’s your body’s knee-jerk response to something you see using that founding perspective we talked about. What’s more important is what you do with that stereotype. How do we treat others?”

Bates also discussed the skills required to build a house of inclusivity– sympathy, sensitivity, empathy, compassion, and humility. “Empathy means that we might not understand what you’re going through, and we can’t pretend that we understand, but that we can strive to be there for each other.” Compassion, in this analogy, means to ask yourself what that person’s story might be, and humility means a willingness to learn from each other and mistakes.

His seminar was focused on forgiveness to create inclusion– for others and oneself.

“Each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done,” Bates quoted, referencing the lawyer and activist Bryan Stevenson. Bates championed choice and responsibility, not only for your actions but in accepting the actions of others. To forgive rather than fight, to educate rather than argue. This worldview, he affirms, is how one creates a community of kindness.

After examining the ideals to create inclusion, students split into separate rooms. Each seminar discussed implementing the aforementioned concepts in their clubs and everyday lives. One panel led by Provo School Board Member and Kindness Club leader Jennifer Partridge discussed creating decor that exudes an atmosphere of kindness through stickers, notes, and posters in both high traffic areas like hallways and low traffic areas like car windows or books. Others mentioned projects that included tracking kindness in paper chain links asking fellow students to add a link when they did a genuine act of kindness. They challenged students to try and do more large projects– things like compliment boxes allowing students and teachers to fill out compliment slips for one another goes far in cultivating a culture of kindness.

In the other room, BYU student Glory Thomas presented everyday habits and mindfulness practices that lead to more kindness with others– improving body language, offering regular compliments to peers, and actively filtering your thoughts before you make critical comments.

Students walked away from this retreat refreshed and prepared to lead with kindness.

“A lot of the tools and skills were about empathy, seeing people from a better perspective. It’s something I’ll keep in mind,” commented Melissa, a Senior from Provo High. Helping others see their peers and themselves through a more empathetic lens is difficult, “How can Kindness Clubs help foster empathetic world views?”

Without pause, Melissa shared a memory from her Kindness Club that made the seemingly too-big-to-touch question very simple.

“A couple of years ago, we wrote kindness letters and anonymous notes for others all over the school. It was one of my favorite moments, just watching people’s reactions as they read kind notes on a random morning.”

It’s through everyday acts of kindness that foster better world views.

Kindness Clubs are culture-makers. They help students recognize others and make people feel seen. Retreats like this are a necessary reminder that inclusion is an active process. It requires practice, intention, and attention to make people feel included. The goal is to create empathetic, responsible leaders. In a time where the cultural zeitgeist holds responsibility and empathy as outdated and naive, it’s nice to know that there are students like Melissa.

Kindness week is February 7-12, 2022. For more information on Provo Kindness and Kindness week, click here.

Spencer Tuinei
  • Communication Specialist
  • Spencer Tuinei