What Happened to Kindness?

In my work I have the opportunity to meet and get to know many people from all walks of life and all parts of our country and beyond. Several months ago, I began to notice an uncomfortable theme developing. Many people I met from outside of New England expressed a basic observation that people here are not very kind. They found it difficult to break into new groups and communities, to make new friends. This was especially true if they did not have children in school, or had yet found a church to join.

This began with one person who was quite distressed about living here. Like many people she was here due to a change due to her husband’s job change. She was starting a business of her own. Having grown up here and feeling very much part of the community, I dismissed it as one person’s experience. Then it happened again, and again. Then I noticed people, like me, who have grown up making similar comments. That’s when I began to pay attention. And, to my dismay, became very aware that this was all too real.

It wasn’t long before I realized that many of the issues my clients were bringing to their sessions were also tied to unkind behaviors. People making judging comments, self deprecating comments and even worse, public ridicule. And, most concerning, a general lack of basic courtesy. At the same time, I believe, most of us are kind hearted people. So, exactly what was happening? My curiosity drove me to do a little (unscientific) experiment of my own.

Every place I went I looked people directly in the eye and said hello or simply smiled. Here is what I found. It was difficult to make eye contact, most people looked down or straight ahead, completely distracted. Others made eye contact and immediately looked away. I held doors for people and few said thank you. In some cases I extended a compliment to a stranger and only a few engaged I conversation, others turned inward or away. On the very rare occasion, I would get an in kind response. It was fascinating to observe.

The point of all this is that kindness makes a difference. And, it makes a much bigger difference in business than we acknowledge. Many of my clients come to me because they are feeling mistreated at work. I’m not talking so much about major infractions. It’s typically more of a cultural issue. Many feel that the people don’t matter only what the people produce is important. And here is the dichotomy in that…people produce much more and much better when they experience kindness from their boss and when the culture of the company supports kindness and compassion.

Dr. David Hamilton reports that there are 5 Reasons to be Kind.

  • Being kind makes you happier both spiritually and biochemically. Spiritually because we know it’s the right thing to do and biochemically because acts of kindness elevates dopamine in our brains, which gives a sort of natural high.
  • It is healthy for the heart, because it releases nitric oxide, which dilates blood vessels and reduces blood pressure.
  • It slows down aging because the feeling of warmth and kindness generates oxytocin which reduces levels of free radicals and inflammation.
  • It creates better relationships by producing bonding experiences.
  • It is contagious; it’s like a pebble in the water creating the same desire to be kind in those around you.

We hear great stories about random acts of kindness. They make us feel good and they may even inspire us to do the same for others. Wouldn’t it be great to feel that way more often? Imagine how it would change how you feel on a daily basis?

If you are a business owner, treating your staff with kindness and encouraging them to pay it forward will increase your bottom line without a great deal of effort. This is one benefit that will cost you nothing and add to your ability to sustain and grow your company.

The bottom line is that we all benefit from being kind no question. Personally, my favorite definition of kindness comes from Aristotle; he said that kindness is “helpfulness towards someone in need, not in return for anything, nor for the advantage of the helper himself, but for that of the person helped”. That’s a far cry from the attitude of “What have you done for me lately?” that we hear about all too often.

My challenge to you is to be aware of how kind you are, or are not, and make it a conscious choice everyday.


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