Kindness. It’s something I think everyone would agree this world could use a lot more of. Most of us wish the world would be kinder. So why isn’t it?
I am not equipped to answer that question. In truth, there’s a complex mix of psycho-social reasons at work. But when recently reading the book Wonder, it started to make me think more about kindness.
The book Wonder is a lauded, award-winning middle-grade novel and one I’ve always wanted to read. My daughter recommended it to me years ago when she first read it. I shouldn’t have waited so long.
From the switching perspectives and well-developed characters to the concept that people and things aren’t always what they seem, it’s much more than a story about a boy with a genetic disorder that required multiple surgeries on his face. It’s a story, at its core, about kindness.
There is one line in particular I decided will be my new mantra. I think if everyone followed this advice, it would push us toward a kinder world.
“Be kinder than is necessary. Because it’s not enough to be kind. One should be kinder than needed.”
I love this line. It’s so simple. Why aren’t we all kinder than we need to be? Maybe sometimes we just need a reminder. Wonder certainly helped remind me of this.
So, in light of that, here are some books in which the characters and stories highlight the importance of kindness and may remind you of an important concept: people may forget what you did and said, but they’ll never forget how you made them feel. (Note: I did not come up with this. It’s a famous quote attributed to many different people, but no one knows who actually said it first.)
Some of these are children’s books. But, trust me, adults can learn from them too.
Books Celebrating Human Kindness
Wonder by R. J. Palacio
What you need to know: I have to start with Wonder. This list wouldn’t be a list about kindness books without it.
The title of the book, Wonder, is extremely clever. On the one hand, it refers to August, the main character and what a wonder he is as a human being. It also represents the wonder of humanity and how most people are essentially good, even if they don’t always do good things. (Something I wholeheartedly believe.) But it’s also a book that makes you wonder: If people are essentially good, why do we act so cruel to each other? Why aren’t people kinder? And then proceeds to show you what kindness really means.
Notable quote: “When given the choice between being right or being kind choose kind.” -Dr. Wayne Dyer, quoted in Wonder
Each Kindness by
What you need to know: Chloe and her friends who won’t play with the new girl, Maya. Every time Maya tries to join Chloe and her friends, they reject her. Eventually, Maya stops coming to school.
When Chloe’s teacher gives a lesson about how even small acts of kindness can change the world, Chloe is stung by the lost opportunity for friendship and thinks about how much better it could have been if she’d shown a little kindness toward Maya.
Notable quote: “This is what kindness does, Ms. Albert said. Each little thing we do goes out, like a ripple, into the world.”
The Invisible Boy by
What you need to know: According to the book description, a simple act of kindness can transform an invisible boy into a friend… In the book, Brian, the invisible boy who no one notices, is never invited to play with the other kids at school. Until Justin, the new boy, arrives.
Brian is the first to make Justin feel welcome. And when Brian and Justin team up to work on a class project together, Brian finds a way to shine. It’s a story of how one person can make a difference in someone else’s life with a little bit of kindness. Sometimes that act of kindness is just saying the word “hi.”
Kindness, Clarity, and Insight by His Holiness The Dalai Lama and Jeffrey Hopkins
What you need to know: Let’s face it, no matter your religious affiliation or lack thereof, we could all learn something about kindness from the Dalai Lama. According to the description, the book is drawn from the lectures the Dalai Lama gave during his first three visits to North America.
The chapters are arranged developmentally from simple to complex topics, which include the luminous nature of the mind, the four noble truths, karma, the common goals of the world’s religions, meditation, deities, and selflessness. Central to all these teachings is the necessity of compassion—which the Dalai Lama says is “the essence of religion” and “the most precious thing there is.”
Notable quote: “Whether one believes in a religion or not, and whether one believes in rebirth or not, there isn’t anyone who doesn’t appreciate kindness and compassion.”
The Kindness Diaries: One Man’s Quest to Ignite Goodwill and Transform Lives Around the World by
What you need to know: Read it first before you see it on Netflix. According to the description, this is the journey of one man who sets out to circumnavigate the globe on a vintage motorbike fueled by kindness. A former stockbroker, Logothetis, leaves his unfulfilling desk job in search of a meaningful life. To do this he sets out from Los Angeles on a vintage motorbike, determined to circumnavigate the globe surviving only on the kindness of strangers.
Incredibly, he makes his way across the U.S., through Europe, India, Cambodia, and Vietnam, and finally to Canada and back to the Hollywood sign, by asking strangers for shelter, food, and gas. Again and again, he’s won over by the generosity of humanity. The Kindness Diaries may just “renew your faith in the bonds that connect people and inspire you to accept and generate kindness in your own life.”
Notable quote: “Because kindness is more than just medicine. The act of giving and receiving is where the real magic of human connection occurs.”
Life and Fate by Vasily Grossman
What you need to know: This has been described as Russia’s War and Peace. It weaves together the account of the battle of Stalingrad with the story of a single middle-class family, the Shaposhnikovs, scattered by fortune from Germany to Siberia. It’s supposed to be a difficult read. (I have not yet read it). One blogger stated, “It took me three weeks to read it and three weeks to recover.”
In reading about this book, I was struck by how many bloggers and reviewers wrote about its representation of innate human kindness in the face of atrocities. The one most noted is the story of a woman who goes with a child to the gas chamber so he does not have to die alone. It brings me to tears just writing that sentence. This book can teach us that in the face of the worst parts of humanity, humans still have the capacity for great kindness.
Notable quote: “Human history is not the battle of good struggling to overcome evil. It is a battle fought by a great evil, struggling to crush a small kernel of human kindness. But if what is human in human beings has not been destroyed even now, then evil will never conquer.”
Anyone else have recommendations for books about kindness?