Project Resilience: How Recording Kindness Can Help Build Community Resilience
“All of the things together, like being pregnant in a foreign country while mourning the loss of my brother, felt like the hardest thing I've ever done. And I've done hard things before as we all have. But for me, these were the hardest together and the timing of them and I felt so alone.”
Author Rachel Hunt Steenblick was living in China last November when she decided to respond to her feelings of loneliness by turning a project she had been thinking of for many years into reality.
At this time, Rachel had recently traveled to the United States to give birth to her third child and between the emotional toll of once again being a new mom and the year anniversary of her brother’s death, she was carrying a lot. She needed something that could bring goodness into her space of grief.
After reading a friend’s tweet about the power of small acts of kindness, Rachel retweeted the post and asked people to send her the stories of tiny kindness they had received.
“Within minutes people started sending me stuff,” Rachel said. “Both on the tweet thread itself, but also in my direct messages. So I spent the next two days deciding to actually do this project. … All of it came together like it was supposed to. (Partly because of) my friend’s tweet, but also it wouldn't have happened if I didn't mean it to happen, because I've wanted to do it for years, but it was needing to be resilient that led me to finally act on this.”
Rachel created multiple social media accounts for the project she named Tiny Kindness and began sharing stories. The first one detailed a time when Rachel’s niece made her a cup of herbal tea for a sore throat.
“She had never made it before,” Rachel said. “So I took my first sip and it was really terrible because she'd cut it open and poured the little leaves into the water. So they were just floating. So my first sip, I got this big mouthful of these leaves. But it was so sweet of her to try that I almost didn't even care, I still tried to drink it.”
Rachel has held onto the memory of this kindness over the years and said it was one of the things that inspired her to begin her project.
The stories Rachel shares on the Tiny Kindness feed vary from children sharing stuffed animals with a parent or caregiver who is sad to stories of strangers offering support in moments of desperation. As part of the submission, Rachel asks for the place where the kindness happened.
While lots of the respondents are from Utah, where many of Rachel’s friends and family members live, she has received responses from around the globe. She has stories from all fifty states, six of the seven continents and numerous countries.
On a practical level, Rachel said the Tiny Kindness project has helped her be resilient by filling her time with something meaningful to do. Beyond that, the content people share helps her too.
“Optimism or positivity for the sake of optimism and positivity don't feel very significant to me,” she said. “But the stories that people were sharing felt like what I was living-- trying to carry both this grief but also trying to look for goodness. And to realize that even in my personal life, things were very hard, and my family had a deep loss, but to know that, that these good stories are real as well. They both need to be held and honored at the same time.”
Comments on the Tiny Kindness posts show that Rachel is not only one who is benefiting from the project. Some readers share similar kindnesses they have received, while others write about what it would have meant for them to receive a kindness like that when going through a similar experience. Others say these stories help them learn how to better respond when someone is struggling.
Jennifer Anderson, the advancement director at The Family Place in Logan, said when it comes to kindness, there are many ways it can impact resilience. For two years now, The Family Place has hosted the “Be Kind Utah” challenge where they encourage Utahns to participate in documenting a million acts of kindness in the time between Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. Jennifer said they wanted to track these kindnesses so they could see what the community impact was.
“What was the impact really, of not only participating in kindness but documenting those kindnesses?” Jennifer said. “What we found with resiliency is that you do better, you feel better when you not only receive kindness but when you yourself act in a kind way. So it makes us stronger as a community.”
Kindnesses documented in the Be Kind Utah project include everything from a child helping someone clean up toys to calling a parent on the phone. As Jennifer read through some of the kindnesses that were documented as part of last years project, she said having a record helps even more people in the community benefit from the good deeds.
“Those things happen privately where we didn't witness them,” Jennifer said. “But by reading them together because they were documented, it's like we get to be almost a part of that kindness. I don't know. It makes me feel good. I'm like reading these with smiles on my face and the sweetness of it.”
When it comes to how kindness increases resilience, Jennifer said it’s not just a mental benefit, but a physical one too.
“Physically, there is a direct connection to physiologically how being kind impacts us physically,” she said. “ I just think it's incredible, that there's a connection throughout the whole thing, not just psychologically but also physically.”
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, Rachel has been in Utah for the past six months because travel restrictions prevented she and her family from returning home to China from a short visit. During this time, Rachel has continued to share tiny kindnesses. She said while the project has always felt meaningful, during this time of global crisis, sharing global kindness feels even more important.
Tiny Kindness Links:
Rachel reading Tiny Kindness submissons: