by Mary Reitano
“A single act of kindness throws out roots in all directions, and the roots spring up and make new trees.” Amelia Earhart
This fall, I see troubling trends. Stories of cruel bullying of students. The unpleasantness of politics. Rude air travelers. To combat this, I want to focus on kindness. Many powerful people endorse kindness–not just humanitarians and religious leaders. Former U.S. Senator Bob Kerrey said, “unexpected kindness is the most powerful, least costly, and most underrated agent of human change.” Robin Sharma, litigation lawyer, changed careers, writing and speaking to corporations like Nike, Microsoft, and Fed Ex about motivating employees. He asked: “Why are you not a merchant of kindness?” He said, “it is the giver that wins the most.” He encouraged building a “universe of strength within you so you have the power to be kind.” President Franklin D. Roosevelt said: “Human kindness has never weakened the stamina or softened the fiber of a free people.”
Kindness is a strength sometimes misconstrued as weakness. But kindness takes courage and vulnerability. Aggression is sometimes seen as strength. But people with “bravado” act strong to mask insecurity. When confident, we can focus on others and exercise kindness.” Writer Katherine Henson observed “having a soft heart in a cruel world is courage, not weakness.” Publilius Syrus, of ancient Rome wrote “You can accomplish by kindness what you cannot by force.” But what is kindness? Psychology Dictionary online, defines kindness as “benevolent and helpful action intentionally directed towards another person…motivated by the desire to help another and not to gain explicit reward or to avoid explicit punishment.” In researching character strengths, researchers Peterson and Seligman placed kindness within the “Humanity” theme, which encompasses tending to and befriending others.
Kindness is universally valued, shown by diverse quotations. Goethe in Germany: “Kindness is the golden chain by which society is bound together.” American Dr. Glassman: “Kindness begins with the understanding that we all struggle.” Yogananda of India: “Kindness is the light that dissolves all walls between souls, families, and nations.” King Solomon in Israel: “A man who is kind benefits himself, but a cruel man hurts himself.” From American Rabbi Lamm: “What is quite clearly the most consistent and all-embracing act of faith is called Chesed, which means kindness and implies the giving of oneself to helping another without regard to compensation.” Research found benefits of kindness to giver and receiver. Rowland and Curry found happiness increased “after seven days of performing kind acts” KindLab at Kindness.org conducted a meta-analysis with 10,047 people from 33 countries. Their research supports kindness’ significant effect on wellbeing. One interesting finding? Kindness ranked above physical attractiveness in potential mates.
Two kind, motivated individuals were described by Kori Miller on positivepsychology.com. Comedian Ricky Smith gave randomly to strangers–umbrellas in a rainstorm and primetime sporting tickets. He started R.A.K.E. (Random Acts of Kindness Everywhere) to fulfill his desire to give back. R.A.K.E. provides meals to kids and adults; food and medication deliveries to seniors; and humor and kindness to lift medical workers’ spirits. Ricky encourages: “My advice is you can do something. You don’t have to be rich; you don’t have to be famous…, anything can brighten someone’s day.” Orly Wahba promoted kindness as a middle school educator in Brooklyn, NY, teaching children to embrace unity and use their influence for good. An airplane sign inspired her to found Life Vest Inside, to encourage people to embrace the incredible power of giving and recognize that during hardship, “kindness, like a life vest, keeps the world afloat.” She garnered national attention when her film Kindness Boomerang showing the ripple effect of simple, spontaneous acts of kindness went viral, receiving over 20 million views. Orly’s mantra: “Kindness, don’t just do it…LIVE IT!”
We too can have influence. Start small and discover many benefits of kindness. First, be kind to yourself, which inspires kindness to others. Steve Maraboli, recipient of the United Nations Award for Philanthropy, said “a kind gesture can reach a wound that only compassion can heal.” Actor Jackie Chan observed “sometimes it takes only one act of kindness and caring to change a person’s life.” For a kindness challenge, see Kindness.org, a nonprofit claiming “kindness is the catalyst in solving the world’s biggest challenges.” Through KindLab, you could help with their research. In closing, cartoonist Scott Adams said: “Remember, there’s no such thing as a small act of kindness. Every act creates a ripple with no logical end.”