This is such a huge honor for me. My senior year of high school, I started a RAKE (Random Acts of Kindness, Etc.) club at my school. That year, I stalked the RAK Foundation because I loved their mission. Recently, they reached out to me to write an article and I was more excited than a four year old meeting a Disney princess. The original article is here, check it out below…
A personal note before I introduce our latest World Changer. A long, long time ago, I was in middle school. And, like most middle schools, we had our share of “inspirational/motivational” speakers and I can be honest with you when I tell you that I don’t remember a single one. I can also be honest and tell you that, after listening to Houston Kraft’s TED Talk a couple of months ago, parts of his message STILL pop into my head every. single. day. (You can find the YouTube video of his talk here). I’ll wait.
“I think you’d be good at it”. COME ON. As a parent to 2 young girls, the fact that a simple 7 word sentence could result in them finding their voices and being willing to explore their passion is an incredibly inspirational thought. The message that Houston is spreading to kids is so important, so vital…And yet so rare in too many schools and classrooms. Here at RAK, we’ve had the opportunity to chat with Houston and we can testify to the fact that his message and his mission are coming directly from his heart. It has become very clear why his Twitter/Facebook/Instagram feeds are flooded with heartfelt messages from kids who were fortunate enough to hear him speak.
Anyhoo. I digress. And now, let’s get down to business (and be sure to read all the way to the bottom, there’s another great video to watch!)
Tell us about you:
Hi, my name is Houston Kraft and I am a recently married man (woo!), a speaker, a leadership trainer, and a kindness advocate. Harley (my wife) and I have 2 annoyingly cute cats and live in Seattle. Our lives revolve around the idea of Love: on weekends we photograph weddings and during the week I speak to schools across the country about kindness, community, leadership, and character. Last year, I spoke at over 110 schools across North America to nearly 100,000 students and staff. I’m excited that this year the number will be closer to a 140 schools! That’s a lot of love.
2) Tell us your “Why?” What is your mission/message?
Early on in my career, I was told that my speaking should always be based in some simple, fundamental truth that I felt passionate about. My speaking mentor called it my “capital T Truth” – what is something that is both profound and non-negotiable in my mind. Over time, that Truth has become very clear to me:
- Every student in the schools I speak at deserve to feel like they belong, are accepted, and are Loved.
- Every student in the schools I speak at are capable of giving one another Love.
This is my “why.” I am reminded every day that people all over the country are living challenging stories – at home, at school, online. There are huge percentages of our school population that show up each day scared – scared of what others think about them, scared they will disappoint someone, scared of failure or rejection, scared that they are worthless, scared of going home. Oftentimes, it is these fears that prevent students from being kind because when we are scared we get selfish. Fear is all about self-preservation and if we feel scared or hurt or worried about fitting in, a lot of times we resort to trying to get an easy laugh or a degrading comment just so we can feel a little bigger, a little stronger, a little less fearful for ourself. That’s why bullying is such a challenging problem – we are fighting against the very human desire to survive. My big goal is to equip students with an awareness of these feelings so that, in those small moments, we can choose to be selfless instead of selfish – we can choose against our natural feelings of fear to support one another, to be kind, and to Love. My message, at it’s core, is quite simple: fear is a feeling and love is a choice. It’s about creating a generation of young people are who are passionate about building strong communities based in empathy, compassion, and Love through consistent, intentional practice of Love. Not the gooshy, awkward, kissy love. Not the kind of love you would use to describe your feelings towards bacon. I’m talking about love as a verb – love as something we can demonstrate and give to others through kindness, respect, patience, forgiveness, humility, honesty, and selflessness.
3) What inspires you in your work?
I am constantly inspired by young people who are smart, enthusiastic, and committed to a better world. It’s humbling to watch students put these ideas into action. I am a huge believer that fundamentally all students (and people, really) want to BE good, they just don’t always know how to DO good. When you equip them with simple ideas and a purpose as profound as Love, they get down to business doing incredible things. Sometimes I think we get so focused on success and money and college and grades that we forget what brings true happiness – seeing good in people and doing good for people.
4) Tell us about 1 act of kindness that YOU have experienced that stands out in your mind.
Three years ago, I was driving at the crack of dawn to a camp I work at in the middle-of-nowhere Washington. It was 4am when I started driving and the Roosters were still enjoying REM. Finally, at around 7 in the morning, I pulled into a small grocery store for some breakfast. I was looking for something healthy when I saw the bakery stacking the doughnut shelves with a fresh batch of maple bars. Honestly, I want to meet the person that can resist that. I snag this perfect doughnut specimen (and an apple so I can pretend to be health-conscious) and walk up to the counter. I sleepily told the cashier how excited I was for this doughnut and half-heartedly asked, “How are you doing this morning?” I don’t think we ever really ask that question expecting much more than a “fine.” But instead, tears started to fill up in this ladies eyes and she described to me – a total stranger – that her daughter was going through her second kidney transplant later that afternoon and she really wasn’t doing “fine,” she was scared and worried for her little girl. I was caught off guard, but did my best to listen patiently and wish her well. I told her, as she printed my receipt, that I hope her day got better and that everything goes well with her daughter’s surgery. Smiling through tears, she told me to enjoy the doughnut. As I got back into the car feeling grateful for my health, I looked down at the receipt. The total was circled and a smiley face was quickly drawn next to it. I noticed that she hadn’t charged me for my doughnut. Haha I’m literally tearing up a little as a I write this – it truly is the littlest things that make the biggest difference. I’ll never forget that silly doughnut or the strength of that woman. As I sat in my car and enjoyed it, it occurred to me that Kindness is possible every day, in small ways, no matter our circumstances. Even when we are at our lowest, we can still lift others up – isn’t that an incredible thing?
5) Finish the sentence: “Kindness is…”
Kindness is…not something we are born good at. Kindness, like a lot of elements of love, is something that we can practice. That’s the great news – we can get better at being kind. We can learn to write beautiful and inspiring thank you notes. We can become excellent observers and give profound and memorable compliments. We can push ourselves to get better at learning and remembering peoples’ names. We can grow away from selfishness and learn how to practice random acts of kindness without any expectation of acknowledgement or reward. When we practice Kindness, we get better at Loving people. So, to re-answer the question, Kindness is a muscle – exercise it :)