If you ask the folks at the National Lung, Heart and Blood Institute, May is National High Blood Pressure Education Month. The marketing team at White Castle will tell you it’s officially Hamburger Month. And the people at the Association for Dressings and Sauces will say it’s Salad Month. Well, here in Massachusetts it’s also officially Kindness Month, by proclamation, not of a business or trade group—but by Gov. Charlie Baker.
When I heard about Baker's decree, I thought, "That's funny—it was only a last year that he officially proclaimed May ‘Building Safety Month.’" And it got me wondering just where these kinds of proclamations originate. I started my quest for answers with the Secretary of the Commonwealth.
"Many of the proclamations that are issued are statutory in nature, the legislature has mandated them," explained Galvin spokesman Brian McNiff. "They’re in the General Laws, in Chapter 6."
Are they ever. Perusing sections 12 through 15 of Chapter 6, I found a staggering array of these officially mandated observances on the law books. They range from the expected, like Section 12J...
The governor shall annually issue a proclamation calling for a proper observance of April nineteenth as Patriots' Day, in commemoration of the opening events of the War of the Revolution and the struggle through which the nation passed in its early days.
...to the practical, like Section 12XX.
The governor shall annually issue a proclamation setting apart the second Monday in December as Candle Safety Day to promote the safe use of candles in the commonwealth and recommending that said day be observed in an appropriate manner by the people.
From the noble, like Section 12NN...
The governor shall annually issue a proclamation setting apart December tenth as Human Rights Day in recognition of the adoption of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights by the United Nations and recommending that said day be observed in an appropriate manner by the people.
...to the mystifying, like Section 15DDD.
The governor shall annually issue a proclamation setting apart the third Wednesday, Thursday and Friday in November, as Silver-Haired Legislature Days, and recommending that said days be observed in an appropriate manner by the people.
In all, I counted more than 180 people, events, and causes that the law demands be officially recognized here in the Bay State on some particular day, week or month.
Given the heady agenda at the statehouse—where they're grappling with issues like natural gas pipeline taxes, charter schools, ride-sharing company regulations, and the state budget—it can be pretty tempting to roll your eyes at the idea that lawmakers would spend time passing these kinds of observances into law.
Then I reached out to state Rep. Ken Gordon, who introduced and cosponsored the Kindness Month bill. Gordon explained he got the idea from a Burlington teacher named Joyce Deliyiannis. Deliyiannis worked with fourth and fifth graders, many of whom were residents of a Burlington apartment complex that had been ravaged by a fire.
"They lost their clothing, their toys, their books, their furniture," Gordon said. "And so the community got together in an effort led by Joyce and gave them back the things they needed."
The kids, who’d been showed such kindness, wanted to pay it forward. Their idea: Officially designate May as Kindness Month to encourage others to do what their community had done for them. Gordon not only represents their district, he also sits on the committee that considers these kinds of bills. When he heard their idea, he was touched.
"In addition to that we could teach them a little bit about civics and show them that we all can be a part of the government," he said.
Gordon says the students were involved in every step of the process. They were at the statehouse clerk’s office when the bill was officially filed. The committee hearing on their bill was held at their school. They were in attendance when the bill received a unanimous yea vote on the house floor. And when Baker recently signed the bill into law, they were there to witness the big moment.
"The governor thanked them when he signed their bill into law," Gordon said. "He said, 'Thank you...this was a nice thing, to show kindness, and to remind each other to be kind to each other.’ He said, 'This was a nice part of my day,’ and he said, 'Thank you for the opportunity to do that.'"
We can only hope that some small fraction of the spirit of Kindness Month lingers in the halls of the State House beyond May 31, because the budget process certainly will.