Everywhere I look I see memes and tweets telling me that kindness matters. At the same time I see multiple examples of unkindness and intolerance. So what’s going on?
First of all, let’s look at why kindness matters. There is a wealth of psychological research which shows that kindness benefits the giver as well as the recipient. Being kind has health benefits, can contribute to the giver’s happiness and can strengthen relationships.
Being kind to others can improve a person’s immediate sense of well-being but it can also have a bigger impact. Depending on the act, kindness can alleviate loneliness, promote happiness and develop a sense of community. It doesn’t matter whether you smile at a stranger in the street, take flowers to a friend or donate blood – all acts of kindness are valid.
Having established that kindness matters, and that it is the ultimate win/win, why is it that some people do not show kindness to others in all their interactions?
A lack of kindness isn’t automatically unkindness. Sometimes people operate in a neutral zone – they are not openly kind to others but they are not actively unkind either. This may be because they are just too pre-occupied with their own problems to notice or care what’s happening to other people.
Sometimes people are actively unkind. This unkindness may extend to everybody else in which case it probably stems from some deep rooted unhappiness. Alternatively, some people are unkind to people who are different to them in some specific way. This unkindness is often associated with fear. (Think racism, sexism, elitism, Brexit etc.)
If you want to belong to a kinder, more considerate community then kindness has to start with you. If you are feeling below par and are struggling, start off by being kind to yourself then project your kindness out into the world. Think of it like the oxygen mask on a plane – you have to help yourself in order to help others.
Once you feel able to be kind to others, start small. A smile, a kind word, letting someone with one or two items step in front of you in a supermarket queue are all important acts of kindness. In making other people happy you will notice that they will start to smile too, may offer kindness in return and all those good feelings will be reflected back at you. Keep it up, you might start a kindness revolution.
When you are all topped up you might be able to offer bigger acts of kindness. Volunteering your time to help others is wonderfully kind and gives you a great feeling too. Another win/win.
Finally, get ready for the ultimate kindness challenge: Being kind to people who you don’t like. If you find yourself complaining about people it is time to focus on what makes you the same rather than what makes you different. Challenge your own prejudice and be kind. Sometimes kindness takes you way outside your comfort zone. (If you really can’t bring yourself to be kind at least resist the urge to be unkind.)
So, back to those memes. Kindness does matter. “Be the change you want to see in the world.” “Throw kindness around like confetti.”
What wonderful acts of kindness have you committed today?