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Published June 27, 2018

Signs for Good: Creating Culture of Kindness in Raleigh

Here’s a superhero origin story that started right here in Raleigh. Perhaps you’ve seen those orange signs popping up across town — in business windows across downtown Raleigh and in grassy suburban lawns. Do Good. Be Kind. Change the World.

Well, they have a strange and wonderful origin.

My best friend Amber Smith and I were teenagers in the 90’s. Inspired by pop culture heroes like Buffy and Sailor Moon, we wanted our chance to save the world.

Though we were just high school students, and our attempts at social change were clumsy and idealistic, we were certain we could end war and poverty if only we tried hard enough.

We started by volunteering for as many causes as we could find compassion for — and we loved all of them! How could we choose? Who were we to decide who deserves more help – the child with cancer, the woman escaping domestic violence, the puppy living in a shelter?

We realized even then that two people can make a difference, but two thousand people can make an even bigger one. 

So we started hiding kindness signs around Crabtree Valley Mall

In a world without social media, we wrote little notes with inspiring messages like “Be the change you want to see in the world – Gandhi” and “How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world. – Anne Frank”

We created a little email address to write at the bottom of the notes, so people interested in being part of this mysterious act of kindness could reach us. We left these little notes on tables in the food court, or slipped into books at the bookstore, or on shelves in stores. We had big dreams, that somehow the media would catch on about these amazing and mysterious notes and do a big news story about how kindness is sweeping Crabtree Valley Mall.

It’s a strange concept, but somehow we thought that if we could create a culture of kindness, then the world would automatically begin changing.

Spoiler: The kindness note campaign did not go viral. But our dreams of changing the world did keep growing.

What is a culture of kindness?

I believe most people are good and kind and want to make the world a better place for the next generation. However, there are hurdles people face when trying to impact the world.

  1. Stepping outside of your comfort zone to do an act of kindness is scary. What if you’re rejected?
  2. Social problems are so big. What good can one person really do?
  3. People fear their own skills aren’t enough to make an impact and the world needs someone “better” than they are.
  4. People are busy and exhausted from work/raising kids/caring for family. There’s no time to volunteer.
  5. People believe they have to “look out for number one,” because everyone is out for themselves.

Our little kindness notes at Crabtree aimed to break down a couple of these hurdles. Specifically, we wanted anyone who found such a note to start to believe maybe acts of kindness are more common than they thought. We hoped to normalize kindness.

A few years ago I was working at Starbucks when a customer offered to pay for the car behind them. This is actually a pretty common act of kindness, but I always got excited when it happened. I loved getting to tell the next person in line, “Guess what? Someone did a random act of kindness for you!”

One woman was so completely moved by her free latte that she burst into tears, saying, “I didn’t know people ever really did things like this.”

But what would happen if everyone believed unrelentingly that even strangers do care about their happiness and well-being? Wouldn’t you be a little bit more open to kindness if you thought kindness was the norm?

That’s what I mean when I say I hope to see a culture of kindness.

#SignsForGood

Amber and I are adults now. From a culmination of those teenage ideals, Amber became the Executive Director of a non-profit called Activate Good, which aims to connect Triangle-area people to volunteer opportunities and social causes in the community.

“Do you remember those little notes we used to leave at Crabtree?” she asked.

She’s an adult now, and she’s learned how to create a full-fledged campaign based on the dreams and fantasies of childhood. (Side note: Don’t crush your teenager’s youthful dreams; you never know when those dreams can mature into something real. And this time, Amber really did get media coverage for her signs.)

So the #SignsForGood campaign was born. But instead of tiny, torn shreds of paper with inspiring quotes fluttering around Crabtree, these are professional signs in the windows of dozens of businesses and yards who want to support a culture of kindness.

So if you see a bright orange sign reminding you to Be Kind and Do Good on Fayetteville Street, let it just it be a gentle reminder that the world is a better place than it sometimes seems. And even when awful things happen, we have the power to make an impact. Every single one of us.

And if every single Raleighite really works to improve the world, that’ll be 450,000 people actively working to solve social problems — or even just show compassion for their neighbor.

I’d really love to see what that looks like.

With hundreds of signs currently scattered across the Triangle (and nationally), the Signs for Good campaign’s first goal is to reach 1000 signs! If you’d like to get your own sign for your yard or window, they’re available here.

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  • heather

    Heather

  • I sincerely believe that through the power of storytelling, I can make social issues become more than a set of statistics. My expertise is in community leadership, non-profit work, event coordinating, networking, and storytelling. All my articles.

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