XOXO Exhibit: A Place to Honor the Impact We Have On One Another

By Sara Schonwald, founder of commitkindess.com, a website that encourages people to share acts of kindness that strangers commit for them.

It was a moment made to post on Commit Kindness (commitkindness.com). And it happened when my children and I were on our way to XOXO: An Exhibit About Love & Forgiveness at Minnesota Children’s Museum to explore the connections between the exhibit and Commit Kindness.

We visited the XOXO exhibit the day of the Twin Cities Marathon. This meant that our usual route was closed and we were redirected through downtown St. Paul, a maze of one-ways and buildings that remain mostly unfamiliar to me. To complicate things, I had accidentally left my cell phone at home, so I couldn’t rely on Siri to guide the way. Hence, our run-in with the directions-offering stranger.

The Commit Kindness moment would read something like this: “Thank you for stopping on that windy day when I pulled over to ask you for directions. You weren’t exactly sure about the street names, but you knew the general direction we needed to head and smiled when you told us. You helped us turn a feeling of ‘lost’ into a feeling of adventure.”

What a fitting way to begin our visit to the XOXO exhibit.

Noticing Ourselves & One Another

Paying attention to ourselves and one another, and the impact we have on each other, is the theme of the XOXO exhibit. It’s also the theme of Commit Kindness.

Like Commit Kindness, the XOXO exhibit invites us to reflect on a time when someone did something kind for us. Visitors are asked to write down and post these moments on a wall.  One visitor wrote: “When my mom and dad read me stories at bedtime.” Another shared, “Give me hugs.”

Notice that the prompt does not ask visitors to write about a time when they attempted to be kind to someone else. This nuance is critical, especially in this moment in time.

The Platinum Rule

This activity highlights the difference between the Golden Rule and the Platinum Rule. While the Golden Rule teaches us to treat others the way we want to be treated, the Platinum Rule teaches us to treat others the way they want to be treated. The Platinum Rule reminds us not to assume that what we intend to be kind will always land in a way that the other person experiences as kind.

For example, when my son was four-years-old, his “love language” was tackling. The more he liked someone, the more he wanted to show his affection by tackling them. My then-seven-year-old daughter didn’t appreciate this. When I asked my son if he’d like it if his sister were to tackle him, his answer was immediate: “Of course.”

My Golden-Rule-inspired question didn’t get to the heart of what was wrong in this situation. It actually didn’t matter whether my son would have liked being tackled; his sister didn’t equate tackling with love and affection. That’s what mattered.

The Platinum Rule asks us to get curious about others’ experiences and remember that they might be different from our own. It’s predicated on the assumption that even with the best of intentions, it’s actually the person who’s impacted by our behavior who gets to decide whether or not that behavior feels kind (or right or just or respectful). Because “kind” can look different for each of us.

This distinction is game-changing. It speaks to the core of paying attention to ourselves and one another. It challenges us to get curious about and share the impact we have on each other, and to be our full human selves in community, together.

More Important Now than Ever

We are in a harrowing social, political and historical moment. The Platinum Rule is more important now than ever. (The XOXO exhibit also offers a station at which we can write down something that makes us angry and then put that piece of paper through a shredder. I am a little taken aback by my visceral delight as I shred the word “Misogyny” and watch it turn into paper confetti in the container below.)

Another part of the XOXO exhibit invites us to speak the phrases “thank you”, “I’m sorry”, and “I love you” into a telephone and watch a screen as those words turn to shapes and colors. I watch my “Thank you” morph into an orange blob as I’m reminded of the stranger’s act of kindness on our drive here. I watch my “I’m sorry” become a green oval as I’m reminded of the times when my good intentions didn’t feel so good to someone else. I watch my drawn out “I love you” turn into a purple caterpillar and float around the screen as my kids’ excited voices call me over to check out another part of the exhibit.

I look over at my son and daughter holding hands, creating a circuit that lights up the words of Helen Keller on a screen near the exhibit’s entrance: “Alone we can do so little. Together we can do so much.”

Like Commit Kindness, the XOXO exhibit is a place to notice ourselves and one another with love and compassion. It’s a place to share and honor the impact we have on one another. It’s a place to remember how connected we are to each other, and to tell the story of who we are in community, together.

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