During the #BeKind21 campaign, no act of kindness is too small.
Being kind to ourselves and each other shouldn’t be so hard, especially after a year and a half of a pandemic kicking our butts. But right now, we’re all so busy trying to stay sane, kindness can fall to the wayside when it really shouldn’t. Luckily, there’s a campaign for that, called #BeKind21.
Lady Gaga and her mother Cynthia Germanotta founded the Born This Way Foundation in 2012 to support young people and empower them to create a braver, more empathetic world. A few years ago, they launched the 21 Days to Be Kind Challenge to encourage participants to build habits that foster their own wellness as well as that of their communities.
“The campaign is deeply personal for our team,” Germanotta told KCM. “It began from the conversation that our executive director, Maya Enista Smith, had with her son as he started kindergarten four years ago. She, like so many parents, hoped for a kind, inclusive, and supportive community for her son and all students.” Smith’s willingness to make sure her son had that experience was the catalyst for #BeKind21. Today, it has grown into a global movement with 6.8 million people from around the world pledging to do one intentional act of kindness every day from September 1 to September 21 in order to build kinder, more connected communities that foster mental wellness. “This all adds up to over 143 million pledged acts of kindness so far!” Germanotta beamed.
For Germanotta, the #BeKind21 campaign is a family affair. “I’m the most proud of raising two incredibly kind daughters — that’s more important to me than anything else,” she said. Her daughters Stefani (the pop star’s given name) and Natali Germanotta are “always on the lookout for ways to show kindness to the people in their lives, to their communities, and to the world, and they inspire me every single day.”
While creating the Born This Way Foundation was an act of kindness in and of itself, the Germanotta family also focuses on small ways to brighten someone’s day. We spoke to Germanotta about her and her daughters’ acts of kindness large and small, self-love, and mental wellness.
Congrats on this being the fourth year of the campaign. How have you seen this campaign grow over the years?
Thank you! We’re so proud of the campaign and overwhelmed by the kindness we’re seeing all over the world. The evolution of this campaign has been incredible, and our incredible team has grown it beyond my wildest imagination. The first year, we had 440,000 people sign up and today, we’re joined by more than 6.8 million people – over 400 partners and counting. The campaign began with the idea that participants would make lists detailing one act of kindness each day for 21 days, and these actions would create a habit. It was an easy-to-follow equation, and as we began to brainstorm kind acts for our own lists and invite folks to do the same for theirs, we realized that we can’t be prescriptive about kindness. Of course, many people need and use prompts (myself included!) and we have those, but the opportunity to think about what you need, what your community needs, what the world needs, and the essential role that you can play in helping meet those needs was what stood out as the most life-saving and kindness-creating ingredient.
Can you tell us about some acts of kindness you’ve done or witnessed?
I love to browse the #BeKind21 hashtag on social media, as well as check out the stories of kindness from around the world on ChannelKindness.org, the Foundation’s online storytelling platform. We’re continuously inspired by the creative, impactful ways our community shows up for themselves, each other, and the world, and so I will use their acts of kindness as inspiration for my list. Some of the actions on my list this year include sending kind notes to old friends and thank you’s to folks back home in West Virginia who support my mom, reminding my girls I’m here for them always, giving to teachers’ mental health projects on DonorsChoose, and serving in the local soup kitchen with my good friend James.
However, the kind act that I hold close as one of the most profound examples I’ve seen of #BeKind21 in the world is the story of a young woman in Brazil. We met her during the first year of the campaign and her kind act, every day for 21 days, was to not cut herself. She had been struggling with self-harm and when prompted with the invitation to imagine what kindness to herself and her community would look like, she decided that she wanted to stop hurting herself. I remember exactly where I was when I heard that story; it was as though the wind was knocked out of me. I have always known that kindness is essential to our individual and collective survival and this powerful example remains in my heart and in my mind every day.
Tell us more about how self-love plays into this campaign.
It’s essential to think about the definition of kindness as one that’s inclusive of kindness to yourself. Going even further, we need to be unapologetic about what we need to take care of ourselves. For Alex, our director of programs and impact, it’s a good Shake Shack burger. For Josh, our chief of staff, it’s attending a cycling class and for Susan, our director of partnerships, it’s going on a run. Please think about what you can do to be kind to yourself today. You deserve it, and the world needs you to know that you matter, your unique perspective is valuable, and your journey is worth investing in. If you or someone you know is having trouble believing that, I invite you to check out PleaseStay.us, which shares resources to support your mental wellness, crisis mental health resources, expert-curated self-care tips, suggestions for anchors, and a pledge asking you to promise to stay in the world.
How can we be kinder to ourselves day-to-day?
First, believe that you deserve kindness. If you don’t believe yourself yet, believe me — you do. At the Foundation, we always talk about the unique positions that we’re in, as kindness is literally our job. In each interaction we go into, we can ask ourselves what the world needs and how we can help in that moment. You don’t need to dedicate your days to that question, but you should spend a little time on yourself each day. I start my days with a gratitude journal and my urge is always to write about other people, but I do my best to include myself in that gratitude exercise. I love to go for walks, take ballet classes, talk to my family, and cook big dinners — I try and find time each day to do one (or more!) of the things that keep me connected, grounded, and grateful.
How is your family participating in the campaign this year?
For Stefani, it’s often as simple as approaching a stranger and asking them how they’re doing. My younger daughter loves gardening, and recently when her neighbor had a baby, she would cut fresh flowers for her and leave them at her door. It’s these small thoughtful gestures that can really make a difference in someone’s day, and I’m so proud of my girls for their good, kind hearts.
What are you hoping this campaign will achieve, even after it’s over?
I’m hopeful that kindness is an exercise, a habit, and a practice that’ll remain in classrooms, families, workplaces, and communities long after September 21st. I hope that our ability to shine a light on and amplify the kindness that’s happening during #BeKind21 will give people ideas, build connections, and help remind them of the inextricable link between kindness and mental health.