I saw a poster up in a supermarket the other day that urged all entering shoppers to “Be Kind”. This is surely a sign of the current times, as I don’t ever recall seeing such an imploring message to customers in the past. Maybe it’s a reflection of the reaction that some have had to the current crisis the world finds itself in – staff have been subjected to abuse and anger (most probably borne from anxiety) and hence the suggestion to try to be on our best behaviour.
This got me contemplating – what exactly it is to be kind? Is it a friendly word to a stranger? Or is it a charitable donation perhaps? Maybe it’s doing a pal a favour? Perhaps it’s being a helpful colleague? Surely, there must be a great many examples of kindness that we could come up with – but is it something that’s seen as savvy behaviour these days?
Increasingly, the world seems to be becoming a more competitive place – indeed competition is a basic survival instinct lurking in us all. Life can seem a race to better yourself – have a successful career; buy a big house; drive a flashy car; amass a small fortune, etc etc.. So, in this ever more self-focused existence, is kindness seen as a weakness?
To be kind takes an effort on our part – we have to give some thought on how we might extend some help, support or even simply friendliness towards others. The question is, should we bother taking the time to do this for others? Moreover, why should we?
You might think the answer to this is because it is good morale behaviour – and that would be true; however, have you ever considered that extending kindness could actually make you a happier person?
If we go back to our competitiveness – we believe that the trappings of success will bring us happiness – and they might – but it would be most likely be shallow and fleeting. What we probably don’t realise is that doing something for others can actually make us happy. It’s a bit like giving is better than receiving – if you stop to think about a time you helped someone out, I bet somewhere deep down, you’ll feel a sense of satisfaction about it.
In a quest to define kindness, I’d propose it can take many forms, from the simplest “good morning” to someone you pass on your daily walk to the bravest of healthcare workers, who are putting their own lives on the line on a daily basis to help nurse others.
I’d go so far to say that we could find other words to help define kindness – charity; help; aid; support and even love.
Yes when it comes down to it, the more I think about what kindness is, the more I come up with the conclusion that it boils down to love. Kindness is an expression of love. Now, I don’t mean that romantic burst of excitement that sweeps you off your feet kind of love, or even the deep affection you hold for your family and friends kind of love; no, I mean the kind of love that is expressed simply from one human being to another.
Going back to our debate on whether kindness is seen as a weakness, I’d challenge that and say that I think kindness is actually a great strength – a skill even.
If we all took the time and trouble to extend a little kindness to each other, the world would run far more smoothly – there would likely be less arguments; less conflicts and less suffering. It would brighten the days. Just think about one of those supermarket staff – wouldn’t a customer thanking them for doing a good job really put a spring in their step? And hopefully help to make up for the grumpy, complaining, soul, who chose to take it out on them just because the store had run out of their favourite brand of biscuits.
In these difficult times, it’s not necessarily easy to be kind – we’re anxious, worried, stressed, confused, scared, depressed – I won’t go on – this probably doesn’t make us feel like we want to extend some kindness into the world. But truth be told, if we can find it in ourselves to do just that, it would make us feel even a little better. Indeed, if we can make the effort to be just a little kinder to each other, amazing things can happen – we can get to know our neighbours better, make new friendships, strengthen our work teams, help ease the loneliness of those on their own.
All of this can make us stronger as individuals, family units, neighbourhoods, communities, organisations, businesses, nations even. Kindness can forge and strengthen our bonds to one another and ultimately, together we are stronger and can achieve greater things.
If the identification that kindness is a welcomed trait to get us through all of this, then my hope is that this is another positive thing to have come out of the ashes of all this suffering and my aspiration is that it is something we can embrace and continue –we can realise is a vital part of our existence.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m far from perfect on the kindness front – a lot seems to depend on my mood – sometimes I feel more benevolent than others. If I make an effort to help out, I will most likely feel very slighted only to have it thrown back in my face – guess I need to try to remember it says more about that person than about me.
Yes, it’s not easy to be kind always and I’d be lying if I said that getting thanks in return wasn’t what I was really hoping for; but ultimately, if we can hold onto the thought that extending kindness not only helps others, but helps ourselves, makes us happier and in the end, helps and strengthens us all, then that should be motivation enough for us all to try.
So now, more than ever, let’s show our true strength by simply being kind.