'Spark Kindness' Program Aims To Empower Kids, Combat Bullying

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Parents, students and teachers are gearing up for the new school year, and amid the shuffle between soccer practice, violin lessons and homework assignments, a Natick-based organization will make time for kindness. The group, Spark Kindness, began in 2010 as an anti-bullying initiative. Over the past four years, the focus evolved to include tips around teaching and promoting the power of kindness.

Christine Fortune Guthery, former civil litigator and founder of the Spark Kindness program, says kindness, though innate, is something to be practiced. She joined WBUR Monday to discuss.

Interview Highlights

Other instincts that compete with kindness

I think young people have an instinct towards kindness and that young people and adults want to live in a kind society. The problem is, we also have some other competing instincts. We have fear. We have a desire to be successful and noticed and recognized, and sometimes kindness can get lost in the shuffle, and that instinct can be difficult to practice.

The methods of teaching kindness

There are different levels of teaching kindness. We have kindness initiatives in the school. For example, the middle-schoolers themselves come up with ideas of how to spread kindness. They put notes on each other's lockers, they write letters to their teachers and to the staff to say they appreciate them. We also have peer leadership programs that the schools have done. Peer leaders stick up for each other and look out for people who have been bullied.

The other part of kindness is really teaching about empathy and teaching about tolerance, and it's not easy. It takes a lot of restraint and discipline for children and for adults to not send that retaliatory email if somebody's hurt your feelings, or hurt your child's feelings. It takes a lot of discipline not to gossip. It takes a lot of courage to stand up for somebody who has been bullied. So these are things that need to be talked about and practiced.

Setbacks, and how to respond to them

We definitely need to address bullying head on, but we also need to accept that every child, every human being experiences setbacks, bumps in the road. And a lot of it is how to respond to those setbacks. How as parents, how as school leaders, coaches, how do we address children and talk to children so that they feel empowered to respond to those setbacks in life?

There are a lot of tools that young people can use, both in talking to themselves and framing challenges in life. Instead of saying that failure is the end, saying that failure is only the end if I give up.

This segment aired on September 1, 2014.

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Bob Oakes Senior Correspondent
Bob Oakes was a senior correspondent in the WBUR newsroom, a role he took on in 2021 after nearly three decades hosting WBUR's Morning Edition.



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