By Kent Brown, Senior Human Resources Consultant, Legacy Bowes

A Lateral Kindness Warrior is a person who fights for kindness. It is a person who chooses to be kind even when people and the world can be unkind, someone who always keeps the sacred teaching of Love in their forethought. They always care about others and are ferociously compassionate. A Lateral Kindness Warrior never tolerates lateral violence, intimidation or disrespect, and always stands up for those who don’t have a voice.

Brown (right) with Boxing Champion Grace Fanbulleh

I don’t know about you, but that sounds like somebody I’d definitely want in my corner. Better yet, that sounds like someone I want to be. While the idea is straightforward, earning the honour of “Lateral Kindness Warrior” is not a simple journey; it involves reflection and introspection, as well as dedication to being kind. Before becoming a Lateral Kindness Warrior, we must first understand what lateral violence is and learn how to deal with it.

Many of our people know of or have experienced lateral violence in our workplaces, within our families and in our communities. If you are not familiar with the concept of lateral violence, let me explain: all of the trauma Indigenous Peoples have experienced has resulted in ongoing generational trauma, pent-up anger and resentment (and many other emotions). In turn, we take it out on each other.

This trauma comes as a direct result of colonialism, residential and day schools, cultural genocide, the child welfare system and Canada’s Justice System, as well as injustices against Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) and members of the 2SLGBTQQIA+ community. This trauma has expressed itself amongst our communities in various ways, such as bullying, shaming, blaming, demeaning, abusing physically and verbally, excluding, undermining, acting passive-aggressively, spreading rumours, gossiping, withholding information, breaking confidences, creating chaos, and the list goes on.

Does any of this sound familiar? If so, you may have been witnessing lateral violence without even knowing it.

Well, I am here to share with you a bit of my story on how lateral violence has affected me and how I changed the narrative to become a “Lateral Kindness Warrior.”

My Earliest Experience with Lateral Violence

I want to paint a picture for you: When I was around eight or nine years old, I remember a big family gathering with many cousins, aunties, uncles and great ones too, including my grandpa, mother and brother. It could have been my age but it felt like a huge gathering, and we were all sitting around a fire in the yard, listening to laughter, stories and the noise of cousins playing.

Out of nowhere, one of my elder relatives speaks up, points at me and says, “I don’t like this one.” Even though I am a very proud band member of Fisher River Cree Nation (Ochekwi-Sipi), it’s important to note that I am fair-skinned with blue eyes. I do not look like most of my family members, and I am sure this was the reason my relative pointed me out in this way. It’s a moment I remember as clear as day, and those words made me feel worthless and unwanted.

As I got up, tears pouring out my eyes, ready to run and hide, my eldest auntie stood up and scolded my relative. “How can you say that to a young boy?” I remember her saying. “That was not nice and you better apologize.” I felt vindicated, and it warmed my heart because it must have taken a lot for her to stand up to her elder. What she said must have really tugged at
his heartstrings and made him feel remorse because he then called me over, handed me five bucks, and said, “I am sorry, my boy.”

Our relationship from that day forever changed, and we became very close. Plus, five bucks to a nine-year-old back in the ’70s was a lot of money!

This is just one example of lateral violence from my childhood. I could fill pages with the laundry list of examples that I have encountered in my life since then. But instead of allowing lateral violence to define my story, I flipped it on its head and pursued becoming a Lateral Kindness Warrior instead.

What Is Lateral Kindness?

Instead of coming from a place of trauma, lateral kindness is based on one of our Seven Sacred Teachings: love. One of my best memories of this teaching of love happened when I was a young boy. I was spending the summer at my granny’s place on the reserve for the first time with my cousins, and I remember feeling scared of staying somewhere strange. My granny had such a kind and loving soul. She was also a well-known baker in the community, which definitely had its perks as a youngster spending my summer with her. A couple of days into summer, I recall sitting in my granny’s kitchen while she was baking some goodies. “Come over here, my boy,” she called me over from the kitchen table, motioning like she wanted to whisper something into my ear. Leaning over, she said, “You are my favourite.” Well, boy, did that ever change my mood knowing that I was her favourite over my other cousins! I didn’t realize it then, but I recall my cousins also walked a bit taller and more confidently the rest of our time there. I bet she said the same thing to them!

In that moment, my granny was showing us all kindness, the same kindness that has been in our First Nations communities since time immemorial because of our teachings. Even though our people have been through so much trauma, hurt and pain, this kindness has made us resilient and is why I believe we can change lateral violence into lateral kindness!

This innate kindness helped me on my healing journey and is why my granny visited me in a dream, pointed at me and said, “Okihtcitaw (Warrior)” when I was on a fasting/vision quest.

It was after this experience about 18 months ago that I decided to leave my position as director of human resources and join the team at Legacy Bowes. Through the meaningful work I do now, including facilitating the “Lateral Violence to Lateral Kindness” workshop, I have answered my calling. I have always enjoyed coaching others and facilitating, but it was not until I started researching the kindness part of this course in particular and the science behind it that I really embraced my mission—changing the narrative to get back to that place of kindness (love) in all of us. THIS is why my granny was pointing at me and saying warrior!

The Benefits of Kindness

Muhammad Ali once said, “Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth.”

Kindness is FREE. You can’t buy it or sell it. Kindness comes from the heart—a place of love for us to give freely without requiring something in return.

Here is the crazy thing about kindness, we DO get something back—the love hormone called Oxytocin. When the Oxytocin hormone is released in our system, it makes us feel happy, joyful and fulfilled, and provides us with a sense of love. This hormone is like a vaccine for our body, and in return, we have less headaches, colds and other ailments. It also reduces anxiety and depression, and it helps us live healthier lives overall.

When we genuinely give kindness, not only do we benefit from Oxytocin, but that act of kindness passes along that same chemical reaction in the other person’s body. Furthermore, because this person has that “love” hormone flooding in their body too, they are more likely to pass that kindness on to another person.

Similar to how negativity creates negativity in the lateral violence cycle, love creates love in the lateral kindness cycle, but we’re all a bit better off in this case.

How to Become a Lateral Kindness Warrior

Now that you understand what a Lateral Kindness Warrior is, I have a challenge for you: set a kindness goal for each day that you are here on Earth for the rest of your life. I can hear you saying, “Are you crazy, Kent?!” I can assure you that I am not! In fact, since I have been doing this work, I have set a kindness goal for myself each and every day. Trust me, once you start, it gets easier and easier, and once it becomes a habit, it becomes part of your daily life. Once you make that daily commitment to
kindness, you will be able to proudly call yourself a Lateral Kindness Warrior.

I know, I know, it’s easier said than done, and we all have bad days. But even then, I still do it knowing that bad days are temporary and the return on kindness is priceless.

So how do you incorporate it into your daily life? Kindness can present itself in many ways—it doesn’t have to be complicated. Here are some examples of what this could look like: giving your spare change to the person who is asking for it on the corner, opening the door for someone, smiling at a passerby, starting a conversation with someone in the grocery store, shoveling snow for your elderly neighbour or telling someone they are doing a great job. Also, simply picking up the phone to connect with that person you have been thinking about or texting a nice message to a friend or family member has the power to turn someone’s day around.

Try not complaining for a 24-hour period, donating to a local charity, or giving up your seat on the bus or your place in line. Have you ever gone through a drive-through and as you went to pay for your order you found out that the person in the car in front of you paid for your coffee? If yes, how did that make you feel? If not, consider being that person. Volunteering is another rewarding way to spread kindness, whether at a food bank or homeless shelter or as a volunteer coach.

This all sounds like a lot, but including a single action in your day could easily become a habit and could mean the world to someone else.

Our Nations, our communities and our people are in desperate need of lateral kindness, and I know we, as Indigenous Peoples, have that blood memory of love—that kindness to give that can help heal our hurt and get rid of the lateral violence that holds us back.

Next Steps

Looking for some ideas on how to incorporate acts of kindness into your day? Check out some resources on the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation’s website:

If you’re looking for a deeper dive into where lateral violence comes from and how your community or organization can remove lateral violence from your organization and turn it into lateral kindness, let’s talk. Legacy Bowes facilitates a Lateral Violence to Lateral Kindness program and would love the opportunity to work with you in your journey toward becoming a Lateral Kindness Warrior. Check out the program today:

Kent Brown is a proud member of the Fisher River Cree Nation in Manitoba. He is a senior human resource professional with 25 years of HR experience, much of which was spent working in Indigenous social services. He specializes in a number of areas, including coaching, policy development, labour relations, facilitation, conflict resolution and performance management. A proud husband and father of four, Brown takes pride in bringing a First Nations view to every area of his life, in his profession, as a seasoned motivational speaker and as an accomplished elite boxing coach.