“All the big words—virtue, justice, truth…—are dwarfed by the greatness of kindness.” (Stephen Fry)
I haven’t been able to get a blog post out of my mind. I wrote about it last month. The blogger in question disparaged Hillary Clinton for her comments that we need “more love and kindness” in America. She further minimized the importance of kindness, saying love and kindness were “completely irrelevant in public life.” This last comment leaves me bewildered–where are love and kindness more relevant?
Additionally, she equated kindness with the misguided efforts of some parents, teachers, and coaches to protect kids from any disappointment by insulating them from loss or distress, giving trophies for simply showing up, and never keeping score. These actions, she says, “handicap a child for the real world where Harvard accepts only so many incoming freshman.”
I do agree with her that coddled and overprotected kids are not being prepared for the “real” world, but the insinuation that such behaviors are performed as kindness—rather than out of insecurity, ignorance, or an erroneous sense of entitlement—is where we diverge. The implication that kindness isn’t going to help a child get into the best college, or land a high-paying job after graduation is one I don’t accept.
And neither, it seems, does Harvard. Kindness and compassion have come to academia, and Harvard is leading the way. Early this year, nearly 100 leading colleges and universities—including some of the most prestigious in the nation—embarked on a program designed to overhaul the college admissions process. The program is called “Turning the Tide: Inspiring Concern for Others and the Common Good through College Admissions.” It came out of a Harvard Graduate School of Education project called “Making Caring Common” (MCC), a program designed to help educators, parents, and communities raise children who are caring, responsible to their communities, and committed to justice. Specifically, “MCC uses research and the expertise and insights of both practitioners and parents to develop effective strategies for promoting in children kindness and a commitment to the greater good, to influence the national conversation about raising and educating caring, ethical children….” Good for Harvard, and good for all the colleges and universities who are recognizing that kindness is more than a frothy concept, but a strength worth nurturing and pursuing.
The goal of Turning the Tide is to expand the focus of the admissions process from being primarily about academic and personal achievement to also include values, community engagement, and meaningful relationships. It attempts to balance the current individualistic emphasis with more attention to how students interact with their community and their surroundings.
The University of Pennsylvania was one of the universities that signed the report and pledged to engage in a two-year campaign to focus more on values in the admissions process. Penn’s Dean of Admissions Eric Furda said that signing the report demonstrates that Penn is a school that values kindness and community engagement, but he also noted that academic achievement is still a critical factor in the competitive admissions process: “You might find a student who’s the most genuine and caring person in the world, but is that going to make up for a 2.8 grade point average on a 4.0 scale? The answer at Penn is no.”
I don’t think anyone is expecting this initiative to turn these schools from elite institutions of higher education to come-one-come-all diploma factories. But if the new attention to compassion, involvement, and giving back means that high-achieving students enter college with a greater understanding and focus on social issues, inequality, diversity, and their own capacity to serve, perhaps those coveted ivy-league diplomas will be in the possession of graduates who are committed to service in the truest sense of the word.
That, after all, is why we’re here. We’re just not always very good at it. Maybe there’s hope.
“Your greatness is measured by your kindness; your education and intellect by your modesty; your ignorance is betrayed by your suspicions and prejudices, and your real caliber is measured by the consideration and tolerance you have for others.” (William J.H. Boetcker)