The Lost Act of Kindness

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In society’s turbulent climate, the act of kindness seems to be a lost art.  Kindness take work.  Being kind also takes a strong sense of self and a vulnerability to give something of yourself to others without need for attention, acknowledgement or reciprocity.   

Studies have indicated that practicing kindness has been linked to greater life satisfaction, deeper, meaningful relationships and better mental and physical health.

Many times we interchange the word kind for nice, but they are in fact two opposite adjectives to describe people.  Kindness involves the essence of one’s character, whereas nice can be used to describe someone who is good-natured or outwardly friendly.   However, extreme niceness can mask a personal inadequacy or a need for acceptance and validation and may not encompass compassion or generosity.

According to the dictionary, the definition of “kind” is having or showing a friendly, generous, and considerate nature.  The synonyms of kind is kindly, good-natured, kindhearted, warmhearted, caring, loving, warm.  

On the other hand, the definition of nice is pleasant in manner or good natured and synonyms include likable, agreeable, personable, congenial, amiable, affable, genial, friendly, charming, 

Deep Vs. Superficial

Kindness runs deep – it is the core of one’s self, a personality trait that manifests itself in empathy, understanding and compassion.  On the other hand, niceness is superficial, doesn’t require much effort – although, unfortunately, some don’t even have the capacity for niceness, and tends to be rooted in a need for something from others.   

Don’t get me wrong, niceness is needed for basic human decency, but to really build a connection with others, kindness must be the foundation.

Ways to Cultivate Kindness

While it may take effort to be kind, your kindness factor can be learned and cultivated.  Below are suggestions for doing that:

  1. Kindness starts with yourself.  If you have limited self-compassion for yourself, or you are constantly seeped in self-judgement or criticism it is hard to experience self-compassion for others.  One suggestion to strengthen your self-compassion is to begin to think about how you would respond to a friend if they were struggling with their self or are overly critical of themselves.    Think about the comforting words you would use and the tone.  The next time you put yourself down or are hard on yourself, think about how you would to treat a friend, turning inward, using the same comforting words and tone and begin to practice kindness to yourself.
  2. Create connections.  Whether it’s a smile at someone on the train, opening the door for someone or buying a coffee for the person behind you in the drive-thru, you are creating a connection that is making the other person feel better without expectation or reciprocity. 
  3. Listen Mindfully.  We all tend to go into conversations with preconceived notions, biases or judgments on how the conversation will go.  Many times, we are already formulating a response before the other person has completed their sentence, which does bode well for cultivating respect and empathy for the other person.  Practice being fully present in conversations by listening mindfully,  and the moment your emotions start to bubble up or your mind wanders to prepping for a response, return to the present moment and just “be” with the other person.  This type of listening breeds empathy, compassion and kindness.
  4. Start at home.  Leading by example is the best way to cultivate kindness in your children.  But you can also encourage your children to think about and practice being kind in their own life.  Instead of asking your children who they played with at recess, ask your child who they were kind to today to begin to learn and recognize kindness in themselves and others.

Today, where internet trolling is rampant, bullying is a problem at many schools and mean girls are commonplace, random acts of kindness, as well as treating others with empathy and compassion can literally change the world. 

Erin Swinson, LPC, LMHCA, NCC

Therapist

Clarity Clinic

Dixon, A. (2011).  Kindness Makes You Happy…..and Happiness Makes you Kind.  Retrieved on August 18, 2017 from https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/kindness_makes_you_happy_and_happiness_makes_you_kind

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