What if all the little acts of kindness — from holding open a door to letting a car into traffic to paying for a stranger’s meal — could combine into a critical mass that could turn the entire world into a kinder, better place?
That was the idea that came to a Japanese academic, Seiji Kaya, in the early 1960s after he was accosted and robbed on the local subway. It wasn’t so much the loss of his property that bothered him; it was the fact that no one on the subway bothered to come to his aid during the incident or even ask if he was okay afterward.
A teachable moment
Kaya, a physicist who was serving as president of Tokyo University at the time, decided to turn that event into a teaching moment.
“I want you all to be brave in practicing small kindness, thereby creating a wave of kindness that will someday wash over all of Japanese society,” he told students in a March, 1963, commencement address.
His words led to the creation of the Japan Small Kindness Movement, a group promoting kindness by publicly recognizing generous and caring acts and deeds. Initially funded and supported by the Japanese government as a way to boost hospitality during the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, the movement has grown in popularity and attracted corporate and philanthropic backing over the years. The group now claims over 460,000 subscribed members and says that it has handed out more than 3.4 million certificates of recognition to people in Japan for their kind deeds.
And the group’s influence went beyond Japan. In 1997, the Japan Small Kindness Movement hosted delegations from similarly minded organizations that had sprung up in other countries. At that conference, they formed the World Kindness Movement.
The organization currently represents members from 27 nations, including several outfits in the United States.
“Our mission is clear: to promote kindness and the good things we, as individuals and organizations, do for each other and with each other,” said Gabriella van Rij, the Secretary General of the organization, in an interview. “And we’re here to encourage you and each other in the promotion of kindness.” (Related: Community and financial well-being)
One of the early achievements of the organization was the designation of Nov. 13 by several of its member countries as World Kindness Day.
“All our members have activities planned,” said van Rij. WKM itself will be inviting people to express their views of kindness on its Facebook page.
Indeed, kindness and caring is fundamental to the mutual strength that comes out of people helping people. That’s what MassMutual supports and believes in.
And so, while there should be acts of kindness every day, make it a point to do something kind Nov. 13. If everyone does it, perhaps the world can become a better place.
“Kindness only grows more kindness,” noted van Rij.
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This article was originally published in 2017. It has been updated.