Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead book cover

Patience Salgado is known as Kindness Girl to the many readers of her popular blog, which launches “kindness missions” designed to spur generosity and community. But her first role is “mom” to her four children ages 5, 8, 11 and 13.

Salgado says that incorporating the two is an important goal for her.  “I don’t want my kids to grow up and think, ‘Kindness ruined my life; My mom was never accessible.’”

The seeds of her missions may be local, but their impact is increasingly far flung. Her appearance in O, The Oprah Magazine inspired good nationwide by describing four acts of generosity to try at home.  And last year’s The Light of Human Kindness art project, lit up stories of gratitude from people around the world.  Artist Hamilton Glass rendered the touching tales in paint on a giant outdoor mural and sponsor The Martin Agency added 1,000 LED lights, literally illuminating the power of human connection.

Light of Human Kindness

Here’s what Salgado says about her life’s work.

What does it mean to be a kindness worker?

It all was born out of my own need. I started long ago just leaving things in places for other people to find. In college, I would write down notes to myself, but I would put them in library books, close them and put them back on the shelf.

I was really intoxicated with the idea that I could be connected to someone I might never meet and that our only point of connection would be something good or hopeful. I was completely intrigued with that thought, so I started leaving notes all over my college. It’s not as creepy as it sounds. It grew and spread from there.

I had a really influential woman in my life who said, “I don’t really think this thing you do is a hobby. I think it’s the work of your life.” I looked at her and said, “I don’t think a kindness worker is a job.” She looked directly back at me and said, “Then go make it one.”

How did the recognition that it was a calling and not a hobby change the way you approached your kindness work?

She really called out what I had been feeling but had not validated myself, because it was something so different. When I finally called it out and said, “This is the thing I do, and this is who I am,” it grew a purpose behind it.

When I started to treat this work as part of a deeper calling, I in turn validated it to the world and not just to myself. This is something we can do as a people and a community. Not only that, but this is a way of life. Kindness is not something we feel. You don’t feel kind. Kind is something you actually do.

I was really empowered by that idea that we could do something together and that it would have some sort of impact either on ourselves, our community, or even our city and our world. I think it added power to it for me. That came out in the work.

On Kindness

“It all came from my own need or brokenness and the idea that sometimes we have to be or give the very thing we need ourselves. If you need grace, you have to be grace. If you need love, you have to be love, if the only reason being that it now exists in the world.”

Can you talk a little bit about the relationship between kindness and positivity? Is there a place for kindness even in criticism?

I do think there is, but we have to deconstruct what kindness is because sometimes it gets mixed up with “nice.” The definition of nice is more societal and polite. It’s often the thing we think we should do, whereas kindness is empathy and compassion. We need nice in the world—it makes us model citizens.  But kindness makes us part of a human family.

There’s a messiness there also. Sometimes being kind actually is going to ask you to be honest with someone. Our response may not always be sweet or saccharine.

Can you say a little bit about the kindness missions you’re leading now?

We’re doing three different missions for WomanKind. We thought it might be a nice way to invite the conference in with acts of kindness.

The first one we did was in honor of Glennon Doyle Melton and Momastery, her website. We asked people to put out notes of hope or encouragement. Women right now are leaving these Post-it notes all over Richmond and beyond for people to find.

So much of her work is based on bravery and being honest. The idea behind that is, what can we offer each other once we’re honest there? Even if we never talk to each other, we’re all moving through life. What can we leave, what can we do, and how can we be a support to each other? Click here to learn more about this kindness mission.

The second kindness mission is in honor of Nora Gallagher, the author of “Moonlight Sonata at the Mayo Clinic,” a book about the uncertainty of her personal health amid a medical mystery. The idea behind this one is: How can we be a support or give when we’re in an unstable place or time? We need people to rally around us and offer practical, real, everyday needs for Hilliard House [a transitional shelter for homeless women and their children]. We’re trying to outfit 15 rooms there. Click here to learn more about this kindness mission.

The last one is for Marie Monville. She was the woman whose husband was part of that terrible tragedy in the Amish community where the children were killed at school. What we’re going to talk about there is what happens when we’re in incredible darkness.

I recently did a kindness mission where we asked people, if they needed a small bit of light, to text us, and we would text them back a message from a kid or a wise woman, or we would share a song.

I asked my kids, “What would you tell somebody in a dark time?” It was really sweet. They offered really sweet advice, and I recorded it. We sent these voice messages back to people. I think we’re actually going to do that. To hear someone’s voice of comfort can be powerful when you feel like you can’t see and there’s dark all around you.

When I did it before, a few friends helped and we just got texted all day long. It felt really personal. There was something about it that was really dear, so I’m really looking forward to that one.

A Parting Thought

“The one thing I am learning now is that you really cannot serve the world and you can’t really serve your calling unless you have given all of those same things to yourself. You don’t really know it the whole way until you do.”