Andy Falconer

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Fingerprints – Little Marks of Kindness

7 Jul 2017 | Leave a Comment |

Fingerprints. What jumps into your mind when I say “fingerprint”?  Maybe it’s something to do with crime. The detective who finds incriminating finger prints that leads them to the culprit. Or maybe it’s sticky children’s fingerprints all over the car windows or the mirror. Or maybe you’re a bit tech savvy and you’re thinking about the digital fingerprints that we leave every time we go online.

Take a look at your fingertips. Can you see the tiny lines & ridges that make your fingerprints different from everyone else’s? Not one other person in the world, and there’s roughly 7.5 billion people on the planet, has the same finger print as you.  Not even identical twins. Your fingerprints are unique. And of course so are you.

We leave fingerprints every time we touch something, whether we think our hands are clean or not. They can leave an almost invisible trail of what we’ve touched since we got up this morning.

I want to talk about the fingerprints we leave. Not on door handles or mirrors but on the lives of other people. You see there’s another way of thinking about fingerprints. They’re the little marks that you leave on another person’s life every time you interact with them.

“You might think that you don’t matter in this world, but because of you someone has a favourite mug to drink their tea out of that you bought them.

Someone hears a song on the radio and it reminds them of you. Someone has read a book that you recommended to them and got lost in its pages.

Someone’s remembered a joke you told them and smiled to themselves on the bus.

Never think you don’t have an impact. Your fingerprints can’t be wiped away from the little marks of kindness that you’ve left behind.”

It’s all too easy for us to think we don’t matter in this world. Maybe because we’re young, or don’t feel we have the power to influence big decisions, or because we compare ourselves to others unfavourably, or because we’re not awarded a prize at the end of year Speech Day. However, you do matter in this world. Why? Because we all have an impact on those around us.

Every time we say something to someone, helpful or unhelpful, it has an impact. Every time we make a decision to help someone or not help someone, it has an impact. We all have an impact on those around us, whether we like it or not. Remember what Dr Suess said: “A person is a person, no matter how small…”.

The people that impress me most here at school are the ones who quietly live out the seven values of the school, something that can never be measured by prizes. They are the ones who leave lasting positive fingerprints on the lives of others because of the way they treat them. It’s about doing good and making a difference.

Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr. and Mother Teresa all left irrevocable fingerprints on humanity. But you don’t have to spend your days thinking that this is the only way in order to make a difference in the world. Of those seven point five billion people on the planet I mentioned earlier, 1000 of us are sat here today. What if more of us gave back, even in small ways? The effect of those thousands of fingerprints would be huge.

The idea of leaving a legacy is the desire to be remembered for what you have contributed to the world. In some cases, that contribution can be so special that the universe is unalterably changed. However, most of us will leave a more modest legacy, that doesn’t necessarily change the world but does leave lasting fingerprints that will be remembered by those whose lives you touched. We all hope our life matters in some way. It’s about doing good and making a difference.

How can we, as educators or as parents, help our children develop an attitude whereby they are leaving positive fingerprints wherever they go?

  1. Avoid using external rewards to reinforce kind behaviour. For instance, you may want to think twice before telling your children that they’ll get a special treat if they help you or share, or promising them extra screen time if they do something kind, as this approach can backfire. They may learn that kindness is only worth performing when they’ll be given some kind of prize as a result. Instead, children should get to experience the feeling that kindness is its own reward and feel good about this.
  2. Praise character, not behaviour. Research suggests that children are more likely to make kindness a habit if they are praised for being kind people rather than just for doing something kind. For example, saying, “You’re such a helpful person” may be more effective than saying, “That was such a helpful thing to do.” Praising their character encourages children to see kindness as an essential part of who they are and seems to be especially effective around age eight, when children are forming their moral identities.
  3. But do criticize behaviour, not character. In other words, it’s OK to induce guilt but not shame. Children who feel guilt (“I did a bad thing”) after wrongdoing are more likely to feel remorse and make amends than those who feel shame (“I am a bad person”). Criticizing a behaviour conveys that it’s possible for the child to change his or her behaviour and make better choices in the future. Such criticism may be especially effective when it also includes positive affirmation (e.g. “You’re a good person, and I know you can do better.”)
  4. Model kind behaviour. Ultimately, actions speak louder than words when it comes to cultivating kindness. Research shows that when children witness adults behaving in a kind way, they are more likely to behave selflessly themselves, regardless of what the adults say to them about the importance of being kind.

So in summary, remember that

You are unique.

You do matter.

You leave fingerprints on other people’s lives every time you interact with them.

It’s about doing good and making a difference.