You Can Be Anything, So Be Kind

“I am not an artist,” says Ginni Bonell. “I can barely draw a straight line.”

Ginni lives in Virginia. She is mid-60s, with long silvery hair, and you get the feeling that this woman listens to Carole King or James Taylor. She has that vibe.

In fact, I would bet good money that this woman owns at least one 1970s album containing the song “Shower the People.”

She throws open a huge garage door for a camera crew and says, “This is where the magic happens.”

Inside is a makeshift studio filled with nothing but scrap wood and paint fumes. There are hundreds—no. There are billions of little pine blocks covered in wet paint.

These aren’t fancy works of art, they are white squares with acrylic pink hearts and simple writing. Two words.

Be kind.

In today’s world, kindness is a pretty rare concept. I just saw a man in traffic, for instance, throw a full Coke bottle at another car on the interstate.

The other car returned fire by throwing a fast food bag. French fries scattered all over the highway. A Big Mac nearly hit my windshield.

These drivers were definitely not listening to James Taylor music.

Ginni’s idea for the handmade signs happened one day after watching the local news. The headlines were depressing, and a person can only take so much televised tragedy, environmental destruction, and senseless acts of politics.

When Ginni was out for a walk to blow off some steam and clear her head, she saw a garbage heap that caught her eye.

In the trash was a big whiteboard. Like the kind you’d find in an office or classroom. She took the thing home and placed it in her yard the way you would a real estate sign. She wrote messages on the board. Like this one:

“In a world where you can be anything, be kind.”

It was just for the neighborhood, mind you. A small reminder not to throw Chicken McNuggets out vehicle windows.

The little whiteboard was an immediate hit. It became famous.

Sometimes Ginni would be in her house—probably listening to James Taylor records—and she’d hear honking horns from cars on the street. Neighbors would cruise by, waving arms, cheering, giving a thumbs up. People stopped to snap photos.

“BE KIND!” some of them would yell.

Ginni had struck a nerve. The next day she went into her garage, probably cranked up her music, and began slinging paint.

We can only speculate what kind of music she might have been listening to. So we choose to speculate that she was listening to “Shower the People” by James Taylor since this makes for a better column.

But anyway, Ginni had a jolt of creative energy—possibly fueled by the aforementioned hit single from 1976—and she painted her masterstroke.

She lugged this new creation from her garage into her yard. It stood like a monument. This was no mere whiteboard. This was art.

“Be kind.”

It wasn’t long before a neighbor saw the sign and asked for one. Then, a few teachers wanted some for their classrooms. Then more people asked for signs. And a few more.

This officially marked the end of Ginni’s spare time. It wasn’t long before she was showering the people with signs. And by “people,” I mean thousands and thousands of people.

Today, Ginni has lost count of how many signs have been given away. It could be hundreds of thousands. Maybe more.

The signs have made their way past city borders, into other states, and other countries. She made the nightly news a few times. Newspapers started writing about the signs. Governors were asking for them. Politicians everywhere from Michigan to Florida wanted their own, too.

Pretty soon, Ginny was dishing out signs faster than nacho cheese at a NASCAR race. Sometimes more than 100 signs at a time.

And still it grew.

Kids started duplicating the signs. People from other places were doing the same thing. Children, teachers, nursing home residents, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Little League teams, art classes, and, of course, regional Realtor associations.

Anybody who had a paintbrush began making “be kind” signs. They were being shipped via the U.S. Mail, hand delivered by locals, given as gifts, displayed on front doors, and propped up in dirt yards in remote Third-World nations.

Today, the signs reside in every U.S. state, nearly every major American city, and in 38 different countries. They stand in neighborhood lawns, car windows, storefronts, flowerbeds, porches, restaurants, coffee houses, mom-and-pop shops, meat-and-threes, county prisons, halfway houses, courthouses, dog houses, outhouses, henhouses, and used car dealerships.

Chances are you’ve seen one before and didn’t know it. I recently saw one in a gas station. That same day my wife saw one in a truck windshield.

The signs are free. Always have been. Ginni gives them away, and so does anyone else who makes them. That’s the rule. Anyone who wants a sign can have one. Anyone who wants to paint one should.

“People are always amazed when I tell them it’s free,” says one sign maker.

Ginni’s signs are not accompanied by online fundraisers, self-promotion, annual meetings, nor fancy merchandise. No T-shirts, ballcaps, bracelets, bumper stickers, Home Shopping Network sales pitches, or theme park gift shops.

The signs are just scrap wood and cheap paint. But the acrylic colors from this woman’s garage pepper the globe.

“It’s so simple,” says Ginni. “And so powerful. I just think we should throw kindness around like confetti.”

In other words: Shower the people.

25 comments

  1. Sarah - August 29, 2020 7:01 am

    I detest the term “be kind.” I’m fed up with the term being used ad nauseum during covid. Someone telling you to do so doesn’t make it happen in your heart.

    Reply
  2. Meredith Smith - August 29, 2020 8:20 am

    How ironic, that’s my motto, Be Kind. When I became disabled I realized how cruel people could be, so I could back with kindness. Just be kind.

    Reply
  3. Meredith Smith - August 29, 2020 8:22 am

    *fought back*

    Reply
  4. Sandy - August 29, 2020 9:03 am

    It sounds like your heart hurts and that’s a sad thing. May someone truly show you kindness today and melt the pain away💕

    Reply
  5. Sandi. - August 29, 2020 9:24 am

    Ginni’s “Be Kind” painted signs idea has mushroomed and spread like a wildfire, and I think it’s a wonderful, positive idea. Reminds me of the “Free Hugs” campaign signs so popular a few years ago that also spread around the globe. Thank you for sharing this, Sean.

    Reply
  6. elizabethroosje - August 29, 2020 10:38 am

    I am blessed with family who have automatic and innate kindness; I was introduced to my Husband via a friend who emailed me about him and the thing that made me nearly cry was that my friend said he is kind; my friend is right and I am most blessed. Thanks for the reminder.

    Reply
  7. Robert M Brenner - August 29, 2020 11:26 am

    Sometimes we forget. Thanks for this reminder ❤️

    Reply
  8. Grace Foxwell murdock - August 29, 2020 11:32 am

    I reached out and Ginni sent me a sign. What a kind impact she has made on thousands of folks. As the Secretary of Kindness of Salisbury, MD, I love kindness sharing. Thanks for highlighting Ginni’s kind contribution to our world!!!

    Reply
  9. RCK - August 29, 2020 12:48 pm

    My comment is for Sarah…
    I think the vast majority of people are good and have kindness in their hearts but sometimes the sadness, ills and injustices of the world pile up on us — thanks in part to the sensationalism of the media. We need to constantly tap into our inner kindness and gratitude. It is good for ourselves and good for others. And a little reminder in the form of a sign doesn’t hurt.

    Reply
  10. Sandi. - August 29, 2020 1:31 pm

    Sincere thanks to RCK for your touching message as a reminder to all of us. Thanks, also, to Christopher Spencer for the link to Gini’s photo and more info about her “kind sign” deeds.

    Reply
  11. Laurel Johnson - August 29, 2020 2:18 pm

    God Bless Ginni as she is a blessing to others.

    Reply
  12. Jan - August 29, 2020 2:34 pm

    Awesome! What a blessing! Thank you, Ginni!

    Reply
  13. Linda Moon - August 29, 2020 4:33 pm

    I haven’t seen one of the “Kind” signs. I would’ve known and remembered if I did. Kindness is showered for the people and pets I know and love, along with my aspirations to buy the world a Coke. There’s a personal “Websters” that resides between my ears, and its definitions of “kind” and “good” are different. Kindness has the vibe…it comes from the heart. Thank you, Ginni, for your kind heart and signs.

    Reply
  14. Christina - August 29, 2020 6:22 pm

    There are a lot of people hurting now and coming from that place of pain/fear. I’m hoping they would experience the greater power of love and kindness

    Reply
  15. Curt Daughdrill - August 29, 2020 7:00 pm

    I’ve never heard of
    meat-and-threes,?

    Reply
  16. Vicky Woolery - August 29, 2020 9:11 pm

    Had to find James Taylor singing that song after reading your wonderful post today.

    Reply
  17. Robert Chiles - August 30, 2020 12:25 am

    I used to counsel couples prior to marriage and I would always give them advice: “Be nice” just be nice to each other.

    Reply
  18. Dusty B - August 30, 2020 2:32 am

    In the rural countryside of America, that is a shorthand colloquialism describing a typical, yummy, summertime menu of meat and three vegetables… 😏😌

    Reply
  19. Darlene - August 30, 2020 1:09 pm

    Wow, you sure have a lot of hatred in you…. Just because you can’t grasp the simplicity of two words being able to connect people across unlimited borders…maybe you need to sit back, be quiet and listen to your inner self, you could find kindness there

    Reply
  20. Gene - August 30, 2020 5:50 pm

    For any one “fed up” with Be Kind, maybe you need your own reminder/saying. How about “Be Grateful” or any that would make you feel positive.

    Reply
  21. Kathy Baldwin - August 30, 2020 6:31 pm

    Your story reminds me of the Burma Shave signs we used to see when traveling across the country. Thank you Sean.

    Reply
  22. Beryl - September 1, 2020 12:15 pm

    Be kinder to yourself, Sarah. You are loved.

    Reply
  23. Lynn - September 6, 2020 1:43 pm

    Just because it’s popular doesn’t mean it’s ineffective. (I won’t called it overused. How could such a phrase be overused?) It serves as a good and simple reminder to respond to people with our best. My mom always said, “Don’t sink to the other person’s level. Bring them up to your level.” In other words, be kind. 🙂

    Reply
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