How To Change The World

I have long been a fan of Steve Hartman. He is an American broadcast journalist with some very special qualities. He has had a varied career but what I know and admire him for is a program he does with his young children Emmett and Meryl. Kindness 101 airs on the CBS Evening News and is available online. Steve, with Meryl’s artwork and hosting assistance, share snippets of inspiring stories about … as you might guess … kindness, but also honesty, integrity, compassion, character, empathy, justice. Emmett, at the dictionary desk, confirms the topic’s meaning and guides them in the right direction. Whenever I need a pick-me-up or a reminder of what is important, I dial in to Steve and his children and I am smiling immediately, both inside and out.

I first came to know Steve when he did a segment for CBS News On The Road where he travelled to Freeport, Maine to meet Kylie and Snowflake. Without a doubt, five-year-old Kylie is mom to a Muscovy duck named Snowflake. Wherever Kylie is, Snowflake is, whether it is a sleepover, a soccer game, or in front of the television. Find the video on you-tube, if you haven’t already, and you will smile and giggle along with Steve and, like the Grinch, your heart will grow three sizes.

Steve has interviewed a vast array of individuals across the United States and all of them have one thing in common – they are doing extraordinarily ordinary acts of kindness for others. In the creation of his Kindness 101, he has provided the opportunity for his children to experience first-hand the ways in which people strive to make the world a better place and it is infectious at the very least.

To name a few, Steve and his children talked to Abraham, one of two orphaned brothers from Sierra Leone, who found their way to an orphanage and eventually to their adoptive family outside Charlotte, North Carolina. The boys continuously find joy and blessing in what most of us take for granted. “Everything is magic to them,” explains their new mother. Then there is Quinn Waters, a three-year-old boy fighting cancer in Massachusetts home and how he stayed positive with the help from a host of visitors outside his window. No one was allowed in their home and Quinn was not allowed outside due to his immune system recovery from a stem cell transplant to treat his cancer. Neighbours came by to entertain, a dog show, teams of dancers, singers, fire truck sirens. All this positive energy helped Quinn’s recovery. “Thoughts can change reality,” said his mother with certainty. Or the Texas school bus driver who shares his love and kindness with his riders every day. He has made a remarkable difference in their lives and assures them every morning as they climb on the bus – they are a family. And then eleven-year-old Ruby who went to work with her mother, a nurse at a retirement home, and Ruby made friends with everyone, creating a three-wishes project for residents that has continued to grow and grow.

Kindness 101 morphed into a documentary called The Gift: Kindness Goes Viral, which aired this past December. Steve poses the question of what it would take for kindness to go viral. He and many others think a simple act of kindness can change the world. How? By paying it forward. An example is hairdresser, Katie Steller, who developed an auto-immune disease at age eleven, which left her losing her hair and eyelashes. Her mother arranged for an appointment with real hairdresser Amy, whose kindness toward Katie in her first ever professional haircut altered her path. When she grew up, Katie became the travelling hairdresser behind the Red Chair Project throughout Minneapolis, to repay the kindness of what Amy the hairdresser called a service. It was much more than that to Katie, and she changes the lives of the homeless she provides kindness to. One recipient explained how human touch comforts him, making homelessness easier to bear.

Steve visited Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and spoke to Anette Peko Hosoi, a professor of mechanical engineering, asking her the same question – can a single act of kindness go viral and change the world? Turns out it can, and Professor Hosoi developed a mathematical formula as proof. All it requires of anyone is a simple deed of kindness. The formula is explained by the concept of experiencing kindness firsthand and then paying it forward, forming a movement toward infinite acts of kindness that changes the world. It seems so simple … because it is.