Frequently when we think of being kind, we think of the things that we can do for someone who might be standing in front of us, or at least who we see frequently. We think of actions and words that are actively kind or show kindness, and we usually think of doing it directly with or for the person with whom we want to be kind. So how can we be kind from afar?

Some of us learn how to share kindness and love with distant relatives. We learn that birthday cards can brighten someone’s day. We see that a special visit to attend a recital or regional competition becomes an event that bonds beyond the applause. A phone call can become the most exciting time of the week. A FaceTime smile or a WhatsApp wish can allow kindness to strengthen the relationship and allow it to continue to grow. Since kindness comes from being present with someone wherever they are and whatever they are feeling, these forms of communication can allow us to be there. It also means that the kindnesses we may share with people through a card or a call are limited. We may be able to send something very personalized, with a lot of meaning, but we could always think of how to be kind the next time it’s possible to meet in person.

Some of us recognize that being kind from afar requires being kind to the collective society, and therefore extending kindness to those who we never know and will never know how they are affected. We use kindness to reduce the emotional distance between those who perhaps are quite distant physically. Doing our part to be kind to the earth and be responsible for our usage and waste can end up doing a great favor of kindness to generations that follow. Depending on what fits our lifestyle, people may choose to bike more, consume less, avoid single-use products, fix and reuse old items, lessen our carbon footprint or reduce waste.

The same kindnesses that we can extend to our environment of planet Earth can also be considered in any environment or space we use. When we leave a classroom dirty by throwing our pencil shavings on the ground, we are creating more work for those who are responsible enough to clean up after us. Some of this kindness translates to basic responsibilities that we could push off on other people, but we chose to be responsible and therefore reduce the need to have others pick up our slack. In Japan, students are responsible for the spaces they use. See the article in NPR titled, “Without Janitors, Students Are In Charge of Keeping School Shipshape.”

While this type of responsibility should be a basic step, even before we consider how to spread kindness, many of our systems are built to shift responsibility to those who didn’t create the mess or problem in the first place. It seems commonsense, but staying in our lane and not creating more problems for other people is a great way to allow people a kindness. Another example of a responsibility of ours is to only take and use what we need. Going back to a classroom example, if I take all of the colored pencils for myself, then I’m not being responsible for my real needs, and I am taking away from someone else’s ability to fulfill their need.

Another collective kindness that affects far beyond what our eye can see is those who continue our virtuous cycle. What does that mean? When we do something kind, even something simple, we model that behavior for those watching and those receiving. It allows for the act of kindness to take a life of its own and continue to spread and impact the lives of others. For example, consider what may happen if you chose to start biking as a form of transportation. First of all, you are contributing to a healthier planet (and a healthier you!). At the same time, you are also modeling biking as an alternative for all the people sitting in the cars you zip by while they are stuck in traffic! So whether it’s sharing your colored pencils, biking more, or a call to a far away friend, kindness can be shared! No matter the distance!