Mijares: Contentious presidential campaign underscores the need for One Billion Acts of Kindness

For many, 2016 has been an immensely challenging year, culminating with one of the most toxic and divisive elections in the history of our country.

The latest presidential campaign has, it seems, reopened old wounds, and electoral maps suggest we live in a nation increasingly divided by politics, ideology and values. Yet there is one trait that unites all Americans, and it is a trait we need to embrace now more than ever. It is kindness.

An image of Orange County Superintendent Al MijaresIn May, the Orange County Department of Education launched the One Billion Acts of Kindness initiative as a way to promote civility, character and positive school climates in Orange County and beyond. We also envisioned this campaign as a way to spotlight the compassion that occurs each and every day, often quietly or unnoticed.

So far, we haven’t been disappointed. Well over half a million good deeds have been logged on www.kindness1billion.org and on social media with the hashtag #kindness1billion. And scores of new ones roll in each week.

We’ve heard heartwarming stories from everyday people who are providing food and clothing for the homeless, baking cookies for veterans and finding lost dogs. We’ve heard from children who have welcomed newcomers to school, and we’ve heard from more than a few kids who have spotted someone sitting alone at lunch and invited them to dine together.

One girl said she simply complimented a classmate she didn’t know on her new haircut — and now the two are friends.

As you can see, kindness doesn’t have to be a sweeping movement that immediately impacts thousands. But each compassionate act has the potential to start a chain reaction that can change the world. At the very least, kindness reveals an inner humanity in all of us that transcends politics, race and other barriers used to divide us.

Since the One Billion Acts of Kindness campaign began, a number of local school districts and community organizations have reached out to let us know they’re on board, and many are organizing their own activities and adding their counts to kindness1billion.org. Included among them are the Girl Scouts of Orange County and the Boy Scouts of America Orange County Council, which asked its members and volunteers to commit at least one act of kindness per day in November.

We hope this momentum will continue into 2017, with benefits that cascade across the state and throughout the country. And OCDE will continue to champion this cause, because kindness is a sustainable resource that drives society. It’s also a virtue that powerfully manifests character, and character defines who we are.

Our electoral maps may show stark patches of red and blue, but we are certainly more than a nation of two political parties. We are, and will continue to be, a country of compassion, love and inclusion, reinforced every day, one kind act at a time.