Since the beginning of the year, red and white yard signs have been popping up all around Oak Harbor.
They’ve been spotted in neighbors’ lawns or in front of the occasional business. They bear a message that is particularly impactful in a world reeling from the rampage of a deadly virus: “Kindness is contagious.”
Bob and Carol Wall, the couple who brought the signs to Whidbey, said they feel the message is more relevant than ever as political discourse grows more vitriolic across the island.
The Walls are board members at SPIN Cafe, a local nonprofit that provides meals and other services for people experiencing homelessness. The couple enjoys reading books together, and one of their recent reads was “Together,” a book about loneliness and human connection by U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy.
In his book, Murthy tells the story of an Orange County mayor who initiated a sign campaign to counter the uncivil discourse he saw occurring in his own city. Not only was increasing bitterness in public dialogue an all too familiar reality to the Walls, the phrase the mayor used on his signs — “Kindness is contagious” — also caught their eye.
The couple wondered whether a similar campaign might benefit Whidbey Island residents, while also raising some money for SPIN cafe.
So far, the cafe has put out more than 100 signs. The signs are given out for a recommended donation of $25, though people are welcome to give whatever they can. Carol said many people who have purchased signs have not formerly been donors to the cafe, and it feels good to know the signs are reaching a broader audience for the nonprofit.
The Walls encouraged people who find themselves engaging in conversations about sensitive or controversial topics to practice using civil language and a gentle tone.
“Kindness means if I disagree with you, I can do that, but I don’t have to do that out of anger or fighting or spite,” Bob said.
“People can talk about differences but not attack one another,” Carol added. “It’s a very difficult time, and I realize that doesn’t always happen, but if each of us works at doing that, we’re going to get a lot further.’
Anyone interested in displaying a sign can get one at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church or the chamber of commerce, or by emailing SPIN Cafe at firstname.lastname@example.org.