Demonstration urges all to just be nice

Patricia Drey

Strangers and grown men hugged each other Saturday outside Mariucci Arena before Minnesota’s men’s hockey game.

The embraces were in response to a “kindness protest” staged by a group of University students at the intersection of Oak Street Southeast and Fourth Street Southeast.

Approximately 20 students held signs with messages such as “Say hello,” “Hold a door,” “Call your mom” and “Give a hug,” and encouraged pedestrians to carry the signs across the street.

Passers-by responded with warmth and cynicism.

“I think it gets a person in a great mood,” Chaska, Minn., resident Joy Knuckstedt said on her way to the game. “It’s Minnesota nice.”

Mike Waulkens, from Albert Lea, Minn., said he was already trying to do something nice when he encountered the rally.

“I’m trying to take my son to the game – if I can get tickets,” Waulkens said.

While many reacted with smiles, hugs and cell phone calls to their mothers, one person broke a sign and another argued that a positive protest is not newsworthy, protester Julie Birkholz, a global studies senior, said.

“I’m trying to block the negativity out of my mind,” said Birkholz, who belongs to Students Today, Leaders Forever – the group that organized the protest.

Members made more than 500 miniature versions of the signs out of construction paper and Popsicle sticks to pass out after the game as a take-home reminder to be kind, Birkholz said.

The group has planned service activities for the next two weeks including its spring-break tour, called Pay it Forward.

Barbara Gates, educational programs director for the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation, said this type of event can remind people that being kind is easy.

“We all have bad days, and we all need to be reminded that other people can reach out and be kind to us, and that we have the power to reach out and be kind to other people,” Gates said.

Group member Greg Tehven said people in the United States today seem hesitant to let people help them and need reminders to think of others.

“It’s like our society is more about ourselves than the world as a whole,” Tehven said.

Despite societal disconnect, the protest brought people together, he said.

“The scalpers were right there with us,” he said. “They were like, ‘Give a compliment and buy two tickets.’ “