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updated: 5/3/2013 1:01 PM

A little kindness could go a long way

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  • The poem inscribed on a memorial marker reminds visitors to the Naperville Riverwalk that we all need a little more kindness.

    The poem inscribed on a memorial marker reminds visitors to the Naperville Riverwalk that we all need a little more kindness.
    Courtesy of Stephanie Penick


During the 10th annual Cuisine for a Cause, a benefit for Naperville CARES with sumptuous samplings and libation served generously by more than 25 local eateries, I found myself engaged in a number of lively conversations.

While listening to heartwarming successes of Naperville CARES, the cause of the evening that helps families in financial crisis by providing emergency support for basic needs such as rent, utilities or car repair, one couple mentioned the challenges of cyberbullying occurring among 11-year-old youngsters outside of school.

Some youngsters with smartphones have taken videos and posted them on YouTube with links to social media. Video rants several minutes long spew malicious messages about classmates, creating a digital footprint that could follow all of them, even after the post is deleted.

The conversation took me back to other expressed concerns in recent years about the decline in social graces, manners and respect. Readers have pitched ideas to heighten awareness about kindness, mentioning "Random Acts of Kindness" campaigns as examples to emulate.

Then in 2011, Kindness in Naperville evolved with input from Bev Frier, Beverly Eigenberg, Barb Dwyer, Nancy Quigley and other folks who have constant contact with the public of all ages.

What we discovered is concerns for civility were nothing new. Back in the 1700s when founding father George Washington was 14 years old, he focused on writing "101 Rules of Civility in Conversation Amongst Men," influenced by even earlier writings from 1664.

Considering recent events, today seemed like a good time to revisit Kindness in Naperville, the grass-roots community movement to promote good-natured civility. Since the days of Captain Joe Naper, our city has been blessed with a generous spirit of caring, accompanied by volunteer citizens who reach out to help during tough times. And I'm mindful of the April flooding.

Plus, passionate debate also has engaged local citizens as Naperville has developed from a farming community of 9,000 in the 1960s to a bustling destination with about 150,000 residents today.

I remember growing up singing the words to "Let There Be Peace on Earth" in church. The first line and other little catchphrases I've learned along the way resonate as reminders that kindness begins with me.

For instance, many years ago I broke open a fortune cookie that read, "Be kind whenever possible. It's always possible."

One Sunday morning I looked up the song's history in the Hymnal at Grace United Methodist Church. I noted it had been written in 1955 by a husband and wife song-writing duo who had dreamed of world peace.

Afterward, Pastor Bob Atkins reminded me that in 1955 Dwight Eisenhower was president, and our nation was about a decade into the Cold War with the then-Soviet Union, a threatening time that lasted for much of the second half of the 20th century.

A little research revealed that Jill Jackson and Sy Miller first introduced their song to a group of 180 teenagers "from different religious, racial, cultural and economic backgrounds, brought together to build understanding and friendship" during a weeklong camp experience.

Ever since, "Let there be peace on Earth and let it begin with me," has helped to create a climate for civility for individuals who sing along.

Still, it's a lot easier sung than done -- especially a world connected with so many different points of view, power plays, egos and instant messages.

Years ago a wise friend suggested five words that buy a little time before reacting to demanding email requests or social media posts. Simply respond, "Let me think about it."

If folks want to mock others for striving to be civil, considerate, courteous and self-controlled, so be it. Be resilient. Be tough. It's a free country. Debate and different opinions absolutely enhance our critical thinking.

Whatever the circumstances, however, everyone can resolve to be kind even in the most spirited public debate or disagreeable moments. Respect goes both ways.

Since 1979, a stone memorial marker dedicated to Clyde "Budd" Netzley, Rufus Dirck Schumacher and Harry E. Ridley has been a place in Naperville to pause and reflect about "What We Need." After the Naperville Riverwalk began developing in 1981 as the city's sesquicentennial gift to itself, the path eventually led to the stone, located just west of the foot bridge that crosses the DuPage River.

Whenever I walk the Riverwalk, I take time to consider the marker's inscription positing that a little more kindness is what we need:

What We Need

A little more kindness and a little less creed,

A little more giving and a little less greed,

A little more smile and a little less frown,

A little less kicking when a man is down,

A little more "wee" and a little less "I."

A little more laugh and a little less cry,

A little more flowers on the pathway of life,

And fewer on graves at the end of life.

-- Author unknown

Considering my strong will and passions, I've learned that I continually need to preach these lessons to myself too.

• Stephanie Penick regularly writes about Naperville for Neighbor. Email her at

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