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Kindness is more than playing nicely on the playground. Kindness has the power to transform cities.

That is what some local advocates believe, they are backed by significant evidence, and now they want to imbue kindness into the marrow of our community.

The Spreading Kindness Campaign will held public celebration last week with Eugene Mayor Lucy Vinis and Tom Tait, the former mayor of Anaheim, California, who helped launched the City of Kindness movement.

It might sound fluffy, almost goofy, to think a concept as simple as kindness can create radical change. That is why the event deserved a large turnout for people to discuss what this initiative could mean locally.

Research shows that kindness holds the potential to improve individual and community well-being while achieving solid returns on social investment. Being kind doesn't mean being weak or a pushover, or failing to hold people accountable, but kindness does require treating everyone with respect.

The current campaign builds on efforts long underway. Altruism and philanthropy already undergird community projects. Kindness underlies local anti-bullying campaigns. It fits into the person-centered, trauma-informed practices in education, social services and management that recognize how adults' negative behaviors often stem from childhood experiences.

Studies show that engaging in acts of kindness lowers stress, anxiety and blood pressure, while increasing energy, happiness and lifespan. For decades, research has shown that kindness is contagious, causing people who witness such acts to act kindly in their own way. Related concepts, such as gratitude and forgiveness, also have been shown to dramatically improve a person's attitude.

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Tait swears by kindness, being elected Anaheim's mayor on a kindness campaign and following through by focusing on kindness in neighborhoods and schools. A key result was that the juvenile arrest rate plummeted.

Other U.S. cities have achieved their own successes, developing kindness initiatives in which panhandlers were instead paid to do community service, or in which police departments took addicts to treatment instead of putting them in handcuffs.

The timing is right as Eugene prepares for the 2021 world track and field championships. But if Eugene chooses to become a City of Kindness, its commitment must be stronger than lip service, greater than a feel-good tally of actions and deeper than the "Oregon Nice" that tourists hear about.

Kindness must be real for visitors, newcomers and long-timers alike. It must be lasting. It must be unconditional, reaching out to people of all neighborhoods and all housing compositions, all races and ethnicities, all sexual orientations, all income levels, all faiths and no faiths and all political beliefs.

The event included sessions on kindness in schools, how faith groups serve the community, how kindness is connected to solving the housing challenge, increasing community well-being, being kind to oneself and others and increasing workplace satisfaction and productivity.

Done right, civic kindness will challenge all of us to live and act differently, from how elected officials relate to each other and the public, to how we build a sense of community within each apartment building, each residential block and each neighborhood.

— Eugene Register Guard

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