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Second reading of Bill S-244, An Act respecting Kindness Week

Second reading of Bill S-244, An Act respecting Kindness Week

Second reading of Bill S-244, An Act respecting Kindness Week

Hon. Jim Munson:

Honourable senators, we talk about a lot of weighty matters here and some serious issues, but I think it’s time to be kind. We heard a lot of acts of kindness today from Senator Manning when he talked about giving the car away, and Senator Coyle talked about the Sisters of St. Martha at St. Francis Xavier University and the kind acts that they have done, so I think it has set the tone for what I am about to talk about.

Before I do that, I understand it’s Hug A Plumber Day today, too.

Senator Plett: Hear, hear.

Senator Munson: And there he is, the esteemed Don Plett, April 25, and I may have more to say about that in a moment.

It’s my honour to speak at second reading of Bill S-244, An Act respecting Kindness Week. The purpose of this bill is straightforward, to have Canada recognize the third week in February as Kindness Week each year. Kindness is described as a quality of being friendly, generous and considerate. It sounds so simple, but as I learned recently, there’s research out there about how kindness affects us and the motivations behind it. We know kindness is good for our health, both our physical and our mental well-being, and that it also has positive social impacts. I believe that recognizing a kindness week each year will help to build a culture of kindness, which will benefit Canadians across the country.

Recognizing and celebrating kindness are not new ideas. The Kindness Week traditions have been taking place in Ottawa for the past 11 years because of the encouragement of Rabbi Bulka and the United Way. Kindness Week has also been declared at the provincial legislature of Ontario for the past nine years, thanks in part to the work and support of my friend Ottawa Centre MPP Yasir Naqvi.

Many communities and schools across Canada celebrate kindness weeks or days already. British Columbia has marked random acts of kindness, which we heard about today with Senator Manning, in February for several years, and World Kindness Day is celebrated in November by several countries.

Senators, I’m sure many of you have already heard of kindness campaigns taking place in your own communities, either in the local news or from individuals trying to make a difference. There are pockets of conscientious, kind acts taking place across the country every day. Senators, I need only remind you of the tragic incident in Toronto where we read in the last two days these aren’t random acts of kindness, these are acts of kindness to each other on the streets of Toronto, helping and holding each other in a time like this.

I’m thinking of people today like Brent Kerr, Luke Elwood and Mark Decker in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, who completed 150 acts of kindness for Canada’s one hundred fiftieth anniversary. And the community of Springdale, Newfoundland, which declared a kindness week for the second year this past February.

Now, where does my motivation come from? I was born and brought up in New Brunswick. This is the story of a young New Brunswick woman, and her name was Rebecca Schofield. You might remember her story. Rebecca created a legacy of kindness with her #BeccaToldMeTo campaign. She started what would be her legacy in December of 2016, only two years ago, after she found out her battle with brain cancer would leave her with only months to live. Sadly, Becca passed away in February of this year, but the impact she made will go on for a very long time.

Young Becca created a giant wave of kindness that spread from New Brunswick throughout Canada and as far away as Australia by asking people to simply participate in acts of kindness as part of her bucket-list request. Her message has had a profound effect on me. She said:

I’ve always known that people have this kindness within them. Kindness and positivity, they’re a choice and it’s not a choice you make once.

To know that these people are making that choice daily over and over and they’re doing it because I have inspired them to do that, it’s fantastic.

Well, Becca and her movement of kindness have certainly inspired me and I hope others in this chamber. I’m proposing “Kindness Week” so we can remember to be kind, compassionate and generous with one another like she wanted us to do.

I would like to see initiatives like Rebecca’s and others come together at the same time each year to support each other and be recognized and talked about across the country, to give these initiatives of kindness the attention they deserve. I hope that having a kindness week in Canada will encourage more people to participate and give time in their communities or even a smile to others. A week of kindness would snowball across the country from coast to coast to coast through awareness campaigns, school participation, volunteering, fundraising, helping neighbours and so much more. Having a kindness week would give communities, organizations and schools a time when they can all send out positive messaging offering program and outreach. The outcome, I hope, would be a kinder, nicer, healthier Canada for all.

I remind all honourable senators that a number of years ago I had a private member’s bill creating April 2 legally as World Autism Awareness Day. It moved beyond kindness; it moved to action, and it moved to the autism community speaking with one voice and galvanizing an autism community that has the ear and action of governments these days.

My mother always used to say, “What’s the world coming to?” I don’t know if your mother said that. “What is the world coming to?”, whether it was the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s or 1980s.

With everything that is happening in our world and reported in the news lately — from bullying and harassment to isolation and exclusion — it is more important than ever that we are reminded to treat others with love and kindness. We spend so much time talking about how not to treat each other, how not to hurt someone or disrespect another person, and while these are important, isn’t it time we started to talk about the importance of being kind, compassionate and simply nice to each other? We need an opportunity to show how purposeful acts of kindness can make a positive difference in the world around us. There is just so much hate in this world.

I am reminded by the passage of compassion by Martin Luther King:

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.

In this time when there are so many disturbing issues around us every day, I think it’s time we started to share stories of kindness, respect and goodness. A kindness week will serve as an opportunity to do just that. That’s what “Kindness Week” can be.

We all know how great it feels when another person is kind to us. We feel it every day when someone may open a door for us from time to time. Feelings of happiness, appreciation and gratitude all come to the surface when someone has done something nice for us. Those benefits of kindness are essentially a given. I don’t need to go into detail about them. When we are kind and nice, we increase the happiness and well-being of those we help.

Because of your own experiences, we know that we should be kind because it makes other people happy, but have you ever noticed how enjoyable it feels to do something nice for someone else? Small acts like holding a door, letting someone cut in line, a quick compliment or buying a cup of coffee are simple yet satisfying. We feel good about having helped someone, and this is because being kind has positive effects for both parties involved.

Several studies have come to the conclusion that the benefits of being kind, giving time or money to a person or a cause, can all lead to an increase in happiness for the giver, not just the receiver. This is because acts of altruism increase serotonin, the feel-good chemical in our bodies that helps to make us happier. They can also boost our oxytocin and endorphin levels.

Additionally, philanthropic activities are proven to lighten up our brain’s pleasure and reward centres, increasing feelings of optimism and self-worth. This by-product of kindness is referred to as “the helper’s high.” So encouraging kindness wouldn’t just increase happiness to those on the receiving end of thoughtfulness, but also improving the mental health and feelings of happiness for those being kind.

The benefits to helping don’t stop there. While improved mental health is a strong argument for kindness, it also benefits physical health. Several studies show that volunteering and showing kindness can improve heart health, lower stress levels and blood pressure, as well as increase energy levels and longevity. By being kind, you’re not only helping the well-being of others, but you’re also improving your well-being. This is a win-win.

Colleagues, it gets even better than just a win-win. Science tells us that these positive effects of kindness are actually shared by anyone who witnesses it, called morale elevation.

Along with the shared positive effects on the brain and the nervous system, this reaction also makes the bystanders to kindness want to act altruistically themselves; so kindness is literally contagious. When you see someone being kind, you want to be kind as a result. One act can cause a ripple effect. This impact is why I’m proposing a week of kindness. One act of kindness can multiply to thousands across Canada during that week.

Honourable senators, although “Kindness Week” is not law yet — it will take a little time, as I’ve known here in the Senate; it took three years for the autism bill to get passed, but it was worth every darn minute of it. I would like to challenge each of you to participate in acts and words of kindness over the next few days and see how this makes you feel. Notice that with your one act of kindness you have benefited someone else, you have improved your health, and you have likely inspired another act of generosity and possibly started a chain reaction of kindness. Please share your acts of kindness with me on Twitter with #BeKind.

Senators, in closing, Canadians are known to be polite and nice. It seems appropriate that Canadians declare a week in February, in the middle of winter, around Valentine’s Day, to be intentionally kind to others, a time to spread kindness and compassion to every corner of our country and maybe even further.

Senators, wouldn’t it be wonderfully fitting for Canada, already known for politeness, to be the first country in the world to have a national kindness week?

I will just quote four people who have talked about kindness in their own ways.

Mark Twain: “Kindness is the language the deaf can hear and the blind can see.”

Mother Theresa: “Kind words can be short to speak but their echoes are truly endless.”

Buddha: “When words are both true and kind, they can change the world.”

Senator Don Plett: “Hug a plumber.”

This is important because it just shows that in each and every one of us there’s an opportunity — and I’m looking at Senator Plett right now —

Senator Dawson: He looks like Buddha.

Senator Munson: This is a unique opportunity. We have so many issues going on but, in mindfulness, we have to take a deep breath once in a while and think about each other. Thank you, honourable senators.

Hon. Nicole Eaton: Did I understand you correctly, Senator Munson, when you asked us to share our acts of kindness on Twitter?

Senator Munson: Yes, it’s #Bekind.

Senator Eaton: I was raised — and perhaps you were or weren’t — as a Catholic. I was taught the last thing you do when you do something kind is to boast about it.

Hon. Yonah Martin (Deputy Leader of the Opposition): I have a few questions for Senator Munson as well.

Senator, thank you so much for bringing this to our attention. I had two questions. I met a woman from Alberta — I believe it was in the Edmonton region — whose town had been witness to a very violent act and they were trying to get over this tragedy. The opposite of a random act of violence was a random act of kindness. There was a huge global movement. I know there’s a Random Act of Kindness Day in November, but in the February week that you’re talking about, in British Columbia, there is a teacher at the school where I used to teach — she wasn’t there when I was there — who also started a movement around that same week called Real Acts of Kindness, RAK. It’s student-led and they do great things to take the initiative. Have you heard of this second group, Real Acts of Kindness, which is the same week you’re talking about? Is this something we can incorporate into this bill? They would be thrilled to know there is this national initiative.

Senator Munson: Well, in the act of being kind, I would absolutely love to hear more about that. I know there is work going on in British Columbia, as I mentioned. If we wanted to change the bill to “Real Acts of Kindness,” I have no problem with that.

Just sharing a moment of compassion and kindness, I don’t know if you saw the cartoon by de Adder yesterday showing the arms of Toronto around the arm of a hockey player from Humboldt, Saskatchewan.

Thinking about these things and how they hit you — what you have to do sometimes — what was kind recently and almost had me drive off the road this morning to stop for a second to listen to it was the interview with the young Humboldt hockey player who’s paralyzed. He has a lot of work to do going forward. But who were the first people in his room? Members of Canada’s hockey sledge team, who have had to go through a horrible time but have now come out playing national hockey on a sledge. To him, that was a real act of kindness.

We see them every day. Sometimes, I think we just let them go by and we don’t breathe and absorb them and take them all in and exercise and move those things out. If we can hold hands across the country and from coast to coast to coast, then why not?