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Can I Laugh On Your Shoulder?

Dec 9, 2020

There’s a lot of talk about what kindness really looks like these days. Don’t get me wrong, I am someone who is deeply passionate about kindness. True kindness. One of my most important goals as a parent is to raise kind and compassionate kids because it matters. Kindness can also be fleeting. When we take it for granted, the kindness that we think we are spreading around is just very surface-level or even in some cases, harmful. What does real, true, deep kindness really look like? My guest today is on a mission to call all of us to action to exhibit deep kindness. Houston Kraft is a speaker, author, and kindness advocate who has spoken at over 600 schools or events internationally. In 2016, he co-founded Character Strong, curriculum and trainings that help teach social and emotional skills. To date, they’ve worked with over 2500 schools globally, serving over 2 million students. In 2019, his face was actually featured of Lays BBQ chip bags as someone who helps spread smiles. This year, his first book, Deep Kindess was released. Deep Kindness is a call to action beckoning us to a deeper understanding of kindness. It calls readers to move past that surface-level “confetti” kindness marked by cutsie phrases and empty gestures. Instead, Kraft reveals that deep kindness is an ever-growing skillset, rooted in empathy, perspective, courage, and forgiveness. Featuring a 30-act starter plan, journal prompts, and practical exercises, Deep Kindness dives into the types of kindness the world needs most today, taking an honest look at the gap between our belief in kindness and our ability to practice it well. Houston’s hero is his mom, and his best life lesson is to “hug like you mean it” (adjusted safely for Covid-19 of course)! I had the best conversation with Houston. He is really funny and has incredible insights about what kindness looks like today.

6:02 - The Houston 101

  • Houston is blessed with having parents who have always supported any idea he’s wanted to pursue. He was really passionate about soccer growing up but broke his ankle his freshman year of high school. In lieu of playing soccer, he was invited to participate in his high school’s production of the musical “Once Upon A Mattress.” While honored, Houston has to inform his theatre teacher that he couldn’t sing! They found place for Houston in the musical as the character of a mute king.
  • He fell in love with the story-telling and collaborative process of theatre. Houston continued with theatre all the way through college and took a year off to determine whether he wanted to pursue acting or some form of leadership. He got connected with a speaker who spoke about leadership, compassion, and kindness in schools. He realized it was what he wanted to do too and started speaking at events after college. He absolutely loved being on stage and sharing stories.
  • So much of his own personal story was shaped by stories shared with him in high school around leadership, paradigm shifts, and what it meant to show up for the world in meaningful ways. Houston spoke for 7 years at 600 schools or organizations all over the country. In 2016, he met with a hero of his named John Narlen. Houston wanted to see what John thought about replicating their speaking services for administrators and educational systems to teach empathy, compassion, and social and emotional skills that indicate success and fulfilment in life.
  • The program now works with over 2500 schools and reaches about 25 million kids! Houston also just published his first book that came on in September of 2020 called Deep Kindness. It includes all Houston has learned about kindness and compassion over the past decade.

11:11 – Impacting the Next Generation with Deep Kindness

  • Houston founded Character Strong and works to equip kids with the skills to think of others before themselves, and it’s an important skill to start teaching early to instill people with lifelong empathy and compassion that inspires others around them as well.
  • Houston has found that kids are really impacted by what they think their leaders and culture think about them. We are too focused on achievement over kindness and happiness, and our kids are aware of it.
  • We are missing the mark. What we measure matters. What we ask young people to show us proof of matters. We are not allocating enough time toward selflessness and compassion. Anxiety and narcissism have increased, and the biggest barriers to empathy are fear, anxiety, and narcissism. 
  • Dr. Ross Green tells us that kids do well when they can. Kids want to please the adults in the world around them. The only reason they wouldn’t is lagging skills and unsolved problems. We need to recognize that they need tools to handle the issues in front of them. There may also be things in their life out of their control that they don’t know how to deal with that cause big feelings to be taken out in other areas of their life.
  • It’s been a tough year, and the pandemic and the political season have made it even tougher for adults to be kind to one another. How are we to expect our children to be kind when we’re not doing it? There’s a double standard. Character Strong recognizes that being in the business of school culture change means first and foremost being in the business of adult behavior change.

29:03 – What Gets In the Way

  • Recognizing the obstacles to creating a kinder world helps us narrow the gap between our intentions and reality. Deep Kindness challenges readers to address questions like this. It’s not light and fluffy and takes a little diving to find what we need to move the cultural needle forward.
  • The three categories that can get in our way are incompetence, insecurity, and inconvenience. If we don’t know how to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes, we will treat them as a label instead of a person. With insecurity, most of the things we do in life says “I love you” or “please love me.” Those fears can drive disconnection.
  • It’s important to practice kindness. It’s not something that is as easy or simple as we sometimes paint it to be as a society. We are also often too busy to devote our time to that practice. What we give our time to is what we value.
  • We can’t control society or the people around us, but we can choose our reactions and how we interact with the world, and that can be a powerful modeling for others.
  • Deep empathetic kindness requires listening, sacrificing, and discipline. Conditional kindness is just being nice when it’s convenient for us. We must allocate consistent practice of kindness. If we don’t have that discipline day in and day out, we are doing kindness, not being kind.
  • We have to be careful of doing more harm than good, which is what can easily happen if we are doing kindness to feel good instead of truly serving others with an awareness of what they need as opposed to what we want to give to them.

46:14 – Character Strong

  • Character Strong has Pre-K through twelfth grade curriculum for schools and works with individual schools as well as school districts. Teachers, administrators, parents, and community members can reach out to see how Character Strong can work with them!
  • If you’d like to take a deeper dive into kindness, be sure to also check out Deep Kindness for conversations about kindness, a journal with 30 days of practical actions, and all the places where you can purchase the book!

48:15 – Getting to Know Our Guest

  • Find out what song Houston has to sing along with when it comes on, what he most looks forward to when he gets home from traveling, what he would eat for dinner if he had to eat the same thing every night for the rest of his life, his favorite movie to watch growing up, who has influenced him most other than his parents. Listen for Houston’s answer to what it means to him to run a business with purpose! You won’t want to miss that one.

Memorable Quotes

18:55 – “We look at the world and sometimes we get frustrated with younger generations wondering why they are not more kind. We have to self-reflect to ask what culture we have created that they feel like these are the metrics of success that they have to live into. What we say is important and what we make to be important are two different things.”

22:45 – “When it comes to school culture change, we are first and foremost in the business of adult behavior change.”

24:20 – “Kids do well when they can.” – Dr. Ross Green, Child Psychologist

25:52 – “I think about the filters with which I can experience the world…if I can provide a couple of layers between me and that person, if I can offer that small veil of what that person is missing or the unsolved problem in their life, it gives me that moment of distance to treat them with compassion.”

33:31 – “I think one of the most damaging narratives to kindness is that it’s free…being kind requires a profound amount of empathy, discomfort, and forgiveness, even if it’s inconvenient to me…the biggest preventer of compassion is just that we are busy all the time.”

41:47 - “Without listening, we lose the empathy side of kindness.”


Houston is a speaker, author, and kindness advocate who has spoken at over 600 schools or events internationally. In 2016, he co-founded CharacterStrong - curriculum and trainings that help teach social and emotional skills. To date, they have worked with over 2500 schools globally serving over 2 million students. In 2019, his face was featured on Lays BBQ chip bags as someone who helps "spread smiles.” In 2020, his first book, Deep Kindness (Simon & Schuster, Tiller Press) was released. His mom is his hero and her best life lesson is to “hug like you mean it.”

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