Feature Stories

A Kindness Honored and Multiplied

Parents and teachers have the responsibility of teaching their children and students many things. One of these pertains to the value of showing kindness toward others. Here’s one, true account of just how much of a difference kindness and generosity can make.

In the mid 1800s, Colonel James Anderson of Pittsburgh did a remarkably kind and generous thing that grew beyond his expectations. It then grew even more.

Colonel Anderson noticed the number of working boys in Pittsburgh that labored long and hard days as they helped to support their families. Theirs was a difficult lot. Poverty, or something quite close to it, kept them out of school and away from an education.

He decided to do what he could to help them. Word was sent to the businesses, shops and stores in Pittsburgh that working boys were invited to the colonel’s home on Sunday afternoons. While there, the good gentleman gave the boys access to his collection of over 400 books, an immense number for a private collection in those days. Colonel Anderson personally served as librarian to the boys, letting them take a book from his collection with the promise they would care for it and read it, then return it the following Sunday and get another.

(I can only surmise that, left with the thought giving up a few precious hours of their limited free time to visit the colonel’s library, there were plenty of boys that passed on the offer. But I believe that those that came and kept coming realized an opportunity that could be life-changing. I also believe there were mothers and fathers that grasped the potential impact of Colonel Anderson’s offer. I also believe these parents not only encouraged their sons to visit the colonel’s library every Sunday afternoon, they made certain their child went clean and dressed in the best he had.)

One of the boys in particular, a youngster named Andy, was especially touched by Colonel Anderson’s gesture. Andy had enough education to read and write quite well, thus he was able to take full advantage of the library. Andy made a promise to himself that, at a time when he would be able, he would provide a similar service as a tribute to Colonel Anderson.

And he did just that. Between 1883 and 1926, Andy, Andrew Carnegie, tapped his immense wealth as the founder of Carnegie Steel to build 2509 libraries. And all a person needed to borrow a book from any of them was a library card.

There has never been a “small” kindness. We mustn’t forget nor underestimate the influence of any kind and generous act.

A semi-retired child and adolescent psychologist and speaker, Dr. James Sutton is the author of The Changing Behavior Book: A Fresh Approach to the Difficult Child, as well as other books and articles. He also founded The Changing Behavior Network, an early internet podcast and blog supporting young people and their families. You can visit his blog at Itsaboutthem.wordpress.com.

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