Kindness Challenge: Consider others’ perspectives

Michele Bartlett paints crosses at a memorial for the 10th Mountain Division that was started by her father-in-law.

Earlier this summer, I went to Acadia National Park with my family. At night outside our cottage, my sister and I would skip stones in the ocean. Every time I threw or skipped a rock, I could see rings in the water that made a ripple effect in the spot where the rock sank into the water.

Kindness toward other people in life causes a ripple effect too. One of the best ways to have your ripple be a kind one in life is to always try to put yourself in someone else’s skin and walk around a while, as Atticus Finch tells his daughter Scout in To Kill A Mockingbird. I think that when people are unkind to each other it is usually because they aren’t taking the time to put themselves in someone else’s skin and aren’t trying to understand what someone else might be going through that is different from their own life.

Imagine how much better our world would be and how the ripple effects could be positive ones instead of negative ones if everyone took Atticus Finch’s advice and walked around someone else’s skin a while? That is what this week’s Kindness Column is about and as always my column includes a story from history and a connection to our own community too.

There are many examples in history of great kindness but one of the greatest examples of a person who put herself in other people’s shoes and created a positive ripple effect with her kind actions is Harriet Tubman. Tubman is an American hero. She rescued hundreds of men, women and children from the horrors of American slavery between 1850-61. She was born into slavery and had no expectation or hope for being free in her life, but she was not willing to just accept that for her life. When Tubman got older she took the dangerous risk of trying to escape from slavery and was successful.

She made it to a free northern state but instead of just living her life there, happy and free, she put herself in the shoes of the people who were still enslaved and she decided to make a difference for others. She created the “underground railroad” (a route she took to help other slaves like her escape) and risked her life hundreds of times to save others. Slave catchers across the country wanted her dead or alive, and she was called a criminal for helping other people escape. But she kept taking those risks to help others and created a positive ripple effect because of her incredible kindness. She put herself in the shoes of those slaves who were still trapped and didn’t stop her risky but kind work until she had helped others.

Right now in the United States, people many people are worried about COVID-19, about schools and kids learning, about the election coming up, about all the racial problems in our country and about many other topics. Sometimes when people have a lot of strong feelings about a topic it’s hard for people to remember to be kind when listening to someone’s opinion that is different from theirs. The ripple effect can be negative when people on different sides of an issue are closed-minded and won’t put themselves in someone else’s shoes and that leads to a lack of kindness.

Unless someone has an opinion that is hateful, hurtful or completely unkind, the kind thing to do is to listen, to try to think about why the other person has the opinion they do and try to understand where they might be coming from. That is what putting yourself in someone else’s skin can mean and it is kind to do that even if it is hard to do. It can be hard to go out of your comfort zone and try to understand where someone is coming from who has a different opinion than you. But if you just listen and try and think about how that person is feeling and where they are coming from then you might learn something and you will be helping spread kindness by listening instead of arguing.

This week’s Kindness Challenge is in honor of Michele Bartlett and it is called “Put Yourself In Someone Else’s Shoes.” Instead of arguing, listen when someone says something you don’t agree with. Instead of staying in your comfort zone, do one thing that makes you challenge yourself in some way.

Bartlett was one of the Concord teachers I wrote about in my Kindness Challenge column called “Go Above and Beyond” and she was a Rundlett Middle School Teacher. Just as I was finishing writing this, Michele Bartlett passed away and I wanted this column to be in her memory because she was the kindest person I have ever met in my life and anyone who knows her would agree. Michele Bartlett was my teacher in sixth grade and like everyone whoever had her for a teacher I loved her so much. But I was also really lucky to share a love of running like her and that gave us a special relationship. She became my running mentor and my friend. She helped me as a runner, as a student and just as a person. She told me to always believe in myself and she encouraged me in so many ways.

Middle School is not really the best time for anyone but she made it great for me. Even during times when I felt alone or not popular or like I didn’t fit in, I knew I could talk to Mrs. Bartlett or go for a run with her and she always encouraged me to push myself to be my best and it made me so happy just to spend time with her. Even after I left RMS, we stayed very close and whenever we would talk or run together it was the best part of my day. She was the kindest, best person I have ever known in my life and if we all were a little more like Michele Bartlett and as kind and loving and generous to everyone as she was then the world would be a much better place.

Mrs. Bartlett always pushed me to be my best, and to be daring, and believe in myself, and I think that she would want us all to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes and get out of our comfort zone. Think about someone you admire and act in a way that they would be proud of. Find a way to do one act this week where you are putting yourself in someone else’s shoes and then email me and tell me what you did at or post on my instagram and tag @kindnesschallengenow and tell me how you helped spread a positive ripple effect with your Kindness Challenge!