Sometimes, I feel like we live in a world gone mad.
We are a world divided on so many important issues. Whether it’s climate change, racism, gender-based violence, gender bias, bullying and, now more recently, COVID-19, you’ll find people with wildly opposing beliefs about whether the problem even exists and how it should be handled.
This is nothing new. Debate, along with freedom of thought, belief and speech, is integral to a healthy democracy and strong civil society.
Yet, what seems to have changed (or perhaps just become more acute), is how unkind and polarizing the conversation around our issues seems to have become. Healthy debate should not include words that exclude, hurt or divide. It shouldn’t allow one voice or set of voices to dominate and it shouldn’t dismiss the feelings of others. It shouldn’t hide behind the anonymity that the internet provides to say or share untruths. And, while debate should provoke change, it shouldn’t incite or ignite unlawful, destructive behavior.
There is no doubt that, in this time of anger and of fear, we are all more prone to lash out and defend the views and opinions we hold so dear.
In the blur of everything that is now unusual around us, in the ‘fight or flight’ world, it is easy to lose sight of the fact that kindness really matters. Kindness is such a powerful tool. It fosters empathy, acceptance and tolerance, de-escalates tension and improves co-operation. Research has shown that kindness increases happiness, improves our connection to others, raises satisfaction and promotes lasting physical and mental wellbeing (for the giver and recipient). It is an interpersonal skill that, rather than demonstrating weakness, takes courage and strength to regularly practice.
And, while we may have been conditioned into believing in the ‘survival of the fittest’, it’s worth remembering that humans are a social species who have lived in social groups and relied on one another to survive and thrive for millennia.
Simply put, kindness matters.
Our ‘Arch’ Desmond Tutu once said, ‘Do your little bit of good where you are. It’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world’. I believe that the solution to some of the madness that currently pervades our discourse lies with each of us and the small acts of kindness that we can make happen daily.
As a start, kindness can make a real difference in the workplace.
A study conducted by the University of California found that small kindnesses don’t go unnoticed and tend to grow across an organization. Workers at Coco Cola’s Madrid headquarters were secretly divided into groups – ‘Givers’ were instructed to do small favours (called prosocial behaviour) for Receivers over a 4 week period. Results revealed that practicing prosocial behaviour is mutually emotionally reinforcing – both Givers and Receivers reported being happier, less depressed and more satisfied with their lives and job. It’s also contagious as Receivers began to ‘pay it forward’, doing small acts of kindness for others, which spread across the company creating a virtuous circle.
As a practice, kindness grows when we remember the following:
As a child, I remember being told that ‘sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never break me’. As an adult, I’ve realized, through sometimes bitter experience, that this old adage is untrue. Words do matter. They can build – through praise, encouragement or thanks. And, words can also divide, hurt, separate and make people feel different and isolated.
Choose your words carefully – particularly when the way that you speak can affect other’s attitudes and beliefs.
Check Your Attitude and Behavior
Be aware of your own attitudes and behavior.
Sometimes, unconsciously, we speak or act in ways that may hurt others. I witnessed an incident in Woolworths recently that perfectly demonstrates this. A customer insisted on re-sanitising the checkout counter after the Cashier had already done so. Speaking to her afterwards, the Cashier explained that this action had made her feel dirty (which was most likely not the nervous customer’s intention). If the customer had been kind and explained why they wanted to sanitize the counter again, it could have had a completely different outcome. Seek first to understand before being understood. Strive to be less judgmental. Don’t retaliate. Bite your tongue – the need to be right or have the last word drives conflict and separation.
Kindness can take many forms, but it’s really, at its root, about altruism – the selfless concern for the wellbeing of others.
Find something that you’re passionate about – be it humans, animals or nature – and get involved.
If you cannot spare any time, perhaps make a financial contribution (or vice versa).
Research has shown that being kind, even when there seems to be nothing in it for us, activates endorphin release to make us feel rewarded.
Be Kind to Yourself
Kindness includes being kind to yourself.