Why Kindness is a Core Value at Catlin Gabel

If you had a COVID vaccine appointment at the Oregon Convention Center, you may have been struck, as I was, by the remarkable spirit of kindness in the air—the friendly volunteers welcoming you, the ushers directing the flow of traffic, the National Guard and trained personnel recording data and administering shots, and the hosts checking-in with you in the waiting room; everyone is kind.

Smiles, laughter, attentive care, offers of help, understanding, and a shared sense of joy pervade the room. There is an unspoken acknowledgment that this is a good thing, receiving the vaccine and making it possible, and the collective sense of optimism, compassion, and kindness is memorable.

A Commitment to Kindness Takes Practice

Kindness, as well as integrity and inclusion, is one of the three core values of Catlin Gabel School. It is a simple concept, but hard to practice with consistency and authenticity. There are some in our community who seem kind by nature and share that gift with generosity and ease.

Being kind, however, is not only a dispositional blessing; it is an interpersonal skill, a value that can be intentionally taught, consciously adopted, and regularly practiced by all of us. Kindness springs from genuine interest and curiosity about others and requires selflessness, empathy, and courage. Ideally it is offered without expectation and received with grace. Kindness is what we want all our students to value and demonstrate, with consistency and sincerity.

The Benefits of Being Kind Are Proven

The research is clear. Harvard Medical School and Cedars Sinai report that kindness, to yourself and others, leads to greater happiness, lowers stress, generates a positive sense of control, and creates higher satisfaction and stability in a loving relationship. Levels of chemicals such as oxytocin, serotonin, and dopamine are increased when engaging in acts of kindness, enhancing well-being for both parties. These benefits, however, are short-lived if they don’t become habits and regular practices. That is why, from preschool through senior year, we create explicit opportunities to be kind, to talk about its importance, and to note when we see it in self and others. We do our best as teachers and staff to model the kindness we want to see in students.

How Catlin Gabel Integrates Kindness Throughout Our Curriculum

As we seek to develop agency across the grades, we emphasize how confidence and voice can be applied to benefit classmates and Portland neighbors. Daily opportunities to be kind on campus, from helping a new student find “the Barn” to extending a helping hand to an opponent on the basketball court, foster a larger commitment to kindness. Every community engagement experience in Portland and beyond, including Outdoor Education and Global Trips, intentionally puts students in situations where kindness is expected and necessary to learning. The repetition of kind acts, genuinely offered, creates a self-reinforcing and virtuous cycle that supports our mission to create compassionate citizens who take responsible action.

We think of kindness primarily in relation to our interactions with others. At Catlin Gabel, however, we also teach a broader concept of kindness. Selflessness, empathy, and care can be extended to the natural world as well as people. From animals to the forest, all living things deserve and benefit from our kindness. Our commitment to sustainability is a powerful example of kindness that extends from the land, plants, and air that sustain our life on earth to the compassion we feel for those who will inherit the world we now inhabit. This may include learning how to care for tender shoots in our school gardens, lobbying the city council to limit the transport of fossil fuels, or challenging classmates to reduce their meat consumption.

The Power of Kindness Should Not Be Underestimated

Aesop, the ancient Greek storyteller, once said, “No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.” Whether it is a random act, an intentional choice, or a habitual behavior, kindness is a value that benefits both others and ourselves. It is also the bedrock of a caring and compassionate community, which means that each of us is obligated to not only understand the concept but also practice it.

In a perfect world, the Catlin Gabel campus and community would always feel the palpable atmosphere of joy and kindness I felt while receiving the vaccine at the Convention Center. Our graduates would learn the power of kindness here and spread it throughout the world. In a year of social isolation and sustained stress, it is the promise of kindness, more than any academic skill, that will provide the hope and healing that we all need.

Suggested Reading

The Heart and Science of Kindness, Harvard Health Blog, April 18, 2019
The Science of Kindness, Cedars-Sinai Blog, February 13, 2019

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