When Lynn Banaszak’s niece, Caileigh, died at age 17, she had no idea what to do.
At the funeral, the family listened to stories about Caileigh as more than 4,000 people paid their respects. That gave them an idea.
“Kindness is so important to us as a family,’ says Banaszak. “Everyone, over and over again — grownups, teachers, classmates — all said Caileigh was the kindest person they had ever known. That if they were lost, or sitting by themselves at lunch or someone needed to step up — she had this quiet, consistent ability to find common ground with people and make sure everyone had a seat at the table. What better way to spread a little bit of it around every chance we got?”
They started the Caileigh McDowell Kindness Movement, she says, to remind people how to treat each other. “We have these ‘kindness cards’ … to spread good deeds and positivity, to keep Caileigh’s goodness in the present tense.” The hope is that the simple messages on the cards, like “give love” and “be inclusive,” will spark inspiration.
Now, they’re partnering with two other local kindness-promoting organizations, AOK For Today and the Pittsburgh Kindness Initiative, to try to make Pittsburgh the kindest city in the world, at least on World Kindness Day.
“The mayor and County Executive have both proclaimed November 13 Pittsburgh Kindness Day,” says Banaszak. “We will be having a rally at noon at the City-County Building, and then send out kindness ambassadors into the streets, in identifiable t-shirts, from 12 to 2 p.m. to hand out reminders of kindness, and five suggestions of ways people can be kinder during the day, and every day.”
The Kindness Movement’s cards have been very popular that Banaszak estimates they’ve distributed 10,000 so far. The cards will soon be available for download from the website.
“It’s really taken off, even nationally,” she says. “I get a lot of teachers asking me for the cards at the end of anti-bullying campaigns, or lessons in school.”
The goal is really just to inject kindness into places where it might be missing.
“Kindness really does matter in the world,” notes Banaszak. “There’s a study from Johns Hopkins, that people will travel more and longer distances to have their physicians be kind to them.”
Though there’s never a bad time to promote kindness, it seems particularly relevant now, as hostility can be a byproduct of a politically divided country.
“In the hustle and bustle of life, we often forget to be the best version of ourselves,” says Banaszak, whose day job is executive director of the Disruptive Health Technology Institute at CMU. “Technology has sanitized some of our interactions with each other. The sound bites of our lives aren’t those compassionate, positive, good-deed-centric things. I think what we’ve realized through the Kindness Movement — when I give a card to someone, it literally changes their posture, their expression, their moment with me. It’s a deeper, more of a human moment.”