Kindness: An International Concept, a photo reflection by Manda Hufstedler

“What do you think we should use for the letter ‘T,’ Raphael?” I inquired. “Tendresse. It’s ‘kindness’ in French, and I think ‘home’ means kindness and love.” Raphael explained to me.

The Alphabet Project and “Home”

The LTP community workshop for the AFS international exchange student group that Katie Hyde and her LTP class conducted this year utilized the alphabet project idea, which allowed the students to determine words for letters in the alphabet that they felt best represented the feeling and concept of home. Each AFS student was paired with a Duke student in Katie’s class. When Raphael and I teamed up to determine words for a handful of letters, I was surprised by how similar our word lists were to each other. We noticed more similarities when we paired up with Michelle, another Duke student in Katie’s class, and Shelby. As we  collectively decided which words we liked best, we talked about why ‘home’ felt the way it did to us, and we seemed to all come to the conclusion that home was somewhere with a safe, loving, caring environment while being slightly varied for everyone. For example, I mentioned that I chose “Howdy!” to represent the letter ‘H’ because I’m from Texas, and although it’s a stereotype, it always reminds me of home. Michelle, Shelby, and Raphael giggled a bit by my insistence that the word is actually used, but they really liked it because it was unique.

From there we set out to capture our words through photographs. This, by far, was the most enjoyable part of the entire experience for me. Not only did we open up, but our small group of four bonded as we continued to recount our stories of home and come up with unique representations of things like the words “Howdy!” or “Tendresse.” Michelle and I stressed the power of framing, focus, and background as we approached the photography phase. When we came to “tendresse,” we were walking through the Center for Documentary Studies building and actively searching for a way to photograph kindness. Shelby asked the group, “Guys, what does kindness look like?” The group discussed how kindness felt: like your mom’s hugs or when someone helps you out when you need it most. As we walked outside into the cold rain, Raphael held his umbrella over Shelby. Looking up she exclaimed that Raphael’s act was exactly what kindness was, and asked for Michelle and I to capture it. The photograph was aesthetically beautiful with the bursts of bright color from Shelby’s sweatshirt and Raphael’s umbrella. Additionally, it ended up representing “tendresse” better than I think we initially imagined. Not only is Raphael offering to share his umbrella with Shelby, but he is actually handing it over to her and forgoing his own dryness and comfort in order to help her. Looking back, we decided that the picture accurately depicted what kindness at home is.

After all of the groups had taken pictures, we printed and assembled them on the wall. Each of us selected two pictures and wrote something, anything that came to mind about the word and it’s representation. Shelby’s writing about the “tendresse” picture refers to selfless acts of kindness between strangers and about kindness being an internationally understood concept that sustains hope in a world full of hate. I identified with and really loved her writing because I, myself, try to go out of my way each day and perform at least one act of kindness for someone I know or someone I don’t know. If everyone were to do this, I think the world would be a more just and loving place- a place more like how home feels.

I felt like this piece really portrays LTP and what it strives to do. First of all, the ABC project gave each person the opportunity to be creative and produce their own examples of what they think, feel, and have experienced. This project also allows people from a number of different places to convey through words and then visual representations what home means and feels like to them. Sometimes a certain word was difficult to explain, but photography helped promote understanding. I personally learned a lot about different cultures and people from the others in my group. All of our pictures had stories behind them from the person who suggested the representation, and we even had a few pictures that we labeled in several different languages. With understanding comes justice, which we learned is an important component of LTP work. Justice may mean a number of different things, and I felt this project promoted the concept of justice through giving people the opportunity to share their stories and educate others, which fosters acceptance and love.

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