On a Friday afternoon in 2002, the world lost a sweet three year old spirit named Ben. His memory, and the healing hearts of his parents, family and community created a project centered in intentional kindness aptly named Ben’s Bells. As an Arizona resident, I’ve seen these bells and the murals they also create, and wanted to know more about them. Jeannette was kind enough to share more of the story, and I’m hoping it keeps intentionally being shared with others from here.
“The idea for Ben’s Bells came about in a series of moments. After Ben died, I had a strong urge (as most parents do) to do something to honor my son’s memory. I heard about a glass artist on the coast of Oregon, where my parents live, who was making glass fishing floats and leaving them on the beach for people to find. That’s where the idea for found art came from. But I knew I wouldn’t make all of the art myself. I wanted something that was more community produced.
A had a bit of ceramics experience and came up for a design for Ben’s Bells with a friend of mine. We started producing them in my garage with friends and family. On the first anniversary of Ben’s death, we hung out 400 Ben’s Bells each with a message to take it home and pass on the kindness. Since Ben’s death, it had been the kindness of others, strangers and friends, that had helped us begin to heal. We wanted to find a way to pass on that kindness and to help others in the process.
Ben’s Bells helps people, families, schools, workplaces and communities. It’s important to understand that kindness is a skill that can be developed through intentional practice. Our goal is to create a culture where kindness is in the air, where it’s something people think about and talk about a lot. We help people understand that we can learn to be more self-aware, and that self-awareness is the first step to understanding others better. We know that it’s not always easy to be kind and that is exactly why we need to develop really good kindness skills. Together, we can learn to solve problems with kindness and in doing so, we all benefit.
After Ben died, I got really honest about my vulnerabilities. I lost interest in trying to be perfect or being a people pleaser. That authenticity and the courage that it took to embrace my flaws is the reason I can be a role model. I want young women to know that it’s ok to struggle, to feel sad, to need help. Vulnerability is not a weakness but actually allows us to develop stronger and more honest relationships. There is nothing inspiring or honest about perfection.
I am inspired by people who demonstrate the strength of kindness. At Ben’s Bells, we always distinguish between being nice and being kind. It takes courage and skill to be kind whereas niceness is more superficial and can be dishonest. Sometimes we’re nice just because we don’t want to make waves. I have lots of kind role models in my life! Some of them are in my family, some are on the Ben’s Bells staff or board, some are friends or community leaders. I am fortunate to be surrounded by MANY kind role models! They are the reason Ben’s Bells was started in the first place.
We use the words intentional kindness instead of random kindness because our message is that we can become very aware, very mindful, about choosing kindness – we can be intentional. And that intentional kindness is a way of life. It would be impossible to pick one act of kindness as my favorite. I am fortunate to experience and hear about so many kindnesses everyday. I love hearing stories about strangers who really step up for someone who needs it. It’s so cool to imagine a culture where all of us are willing to do whatever we need to do to take care of each other.”
Jeannette Maré is the founder and Executive Director of Ben’s Bells Project. Jeannette’s leadership has anchored the organization through remarkable growth, including the opening of three studios, collaborating with hundreds of local organizations and recruiting more than 25,000 annual volunteers. As part of her vision, Ben’s Bells has become nationally recognized and “kindness” is becoming part of the nation’s collective consciousness.
For more #MakeKindnessCool inspo, check the series here.