A part of kindness consists in loving people more than they deserve. Joseph Joubert
This last week I have been reflecting on kindness and why there is not enough of it in the world.
While we are supposedly more open to softness and emotion, the reality is that we still privilege disconnection.
What do I mean by this?
Simply that the hard-nosed, cut off and detached can be perceived as more capable and grown up than their more sensitive peers.
Although they are rarely more capable and grown up or in fact even hard-nosed, the image is revered and therefore, reinforced.
But it’s a myth. Underneath, we are all vulnerable.
This doesn’t mean we can’t manage emotions appropriately or make difficult decisions. We navigate complexity daily.
In fact studies show that survivors of abuse accept vulnerability as a way to build strength and authenticity.
Hardness is a defense and it should not be confused with courage any more than someone who avoids dealing with real problems because they are difficult should be labeled kind.
Kindness takes courage.
Of course it’s easy to be kind when we’re in a great space and the world is working with us but when times are tough or we’re under stress it’s a greater challenge.
It’s so much easier to lash than it is to take a breath and deal with our own frustration.
And while doing so releases the pressure valve in the short term, you have to ask yourself what you are creating in the longer term and if that is what you really want.
Do you want a productive, trusting relationship with your colleague? A connected loving relationship with your partner or child? Will lashing out really help you accomplish that, or will it build walls?
I’ll bet that kindness (which includes being able to disagree, be firm or tackle difficulty) is better at creating long-term good.
And yet it doesn’t always seem to work like that way.
We hear of ruthless managers surrounded by people only too willing to do their bidding and many climb the corporate tree where there are seemingly no consequences for the way that they act.
But are these people following them out of respect for their ability or character? No, it’s just fear.
To excuse a lack of empathy some people retreat to evolution, talking about survival of the fittest as if it precludes kindness.
But survival of the fittest does not mean dog-eat-dog.
Darwin has been greatly misinterpreted.
Director of the Berkeley Social Interaction Lab Dacher Keltner says Darwin believed sympathy was a stronger instinct than self-preservation and that we are profoundly cooperative in the way we live.
So why does the message get lost? Why are kind people sometimes seen as soft? Why is emotional sensitivity confused with weakness?
For a long time people thought it was possible to separate reason from feeling and that the job of the mind was to keep emotion under control.
This stemmed from the belief that body and mind were separate, something science has shown to be false.
The body and mind are so intimately connected that even the way we move impacts our thoughts and actions and vice versa.
And what we know is that being kind is not just good for us emotionally but physiologically too.
When we support others we increase the dopamine in our brains, giving us a kind of high. Emotional warmth also produces oxytocin, which reduces blood pressure and the free radicals and inflammation associated with ageing.
But the best thing is that kindness is contagious.
And the finding has been replicated.
In a game where selfishness made more sense than cooperation acts of kindness tripled over the course of an experiment by other subjects who were influenced to contribute more.
But it’s a case of monkey-see, monkey-do, which means that selfish behavior can also be replicated.
That makes it important not just to role model the behavior you’d like to see but to choose wisely who you keep around.
So if you find yourself being seduced by the aura of a can-do boss who takes no prisoners or are on the verge of lashing out, stop and consider this.
The cost of unkindness to yourself or others is huge.
And it’s not just body and soul, it has a domino effect on the world.
- Do one kind thing for yourself each day that does not involve buying something.
- Do one kind thing for someone else.
- And if you are yourself on the verge of being unkind, stop and reflect. What is your long-term goal? And how will what you about to do help you accomplish that?
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