So what is kindness and how is it different from being merely nice? Why is it held up as a great thing to be, and how can we encourage more acts of kindness? How can we ourselves become better at being living examples of kindness? This blog seeks to answer these questions.
A life of kindness is one way that each of us can leave the world a better place than when we found it. We all have the power to act in a kind manner, to try to see the world as others do, and to have empathy and compassion for others whom we interact with in our own home and neighborhood. When we do this we create peace in one small part of the world, one neighborhood and one person at a time. It is telling that when Mother Teresa won the Nobel Peace Prize a reporter asked the great lady: “What can we do to promote world peace?” Mother Teresa’s answer was “Go home and love your family”. Mother Teresa understood that peace begins in the home and is learned by children watching parents interact. When parents model acts of kindness and grace towards one another, children learn to act in kindness and grace. This is the first and most important step toward a peaceful world.
Everyone suffers; some people just hide it better than others. Mother Teresa once called loneliness “the pellagra of the West” (pellagra being a widespread illness in much of the third world). Even in crowded cities, millions of Americans suffer from loneliness. This is because humans are made to be relational beings: we crave and thrive on positive social interactions.
All around us are lonely, distressed, and hurting people walking around wearing mask to show an outwardly happy face. More than anything these fellow citizens crave kindness from you. Life can be hard at times for all of us, but for some, life can be hard all of the time. Others need – desperately, to see grace and kindness from us to let them know that life is not all about pain and suffering. Others need to see grace and kindness from us to counteract the cruelty and unhappiness they have experienced from others. You and I can be the embodiment of grace and kindness to someone every day. One of my psychotherapy clients was an Afghanistan combat Veteran who struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder and had daily thoughts of suicide for years. The one thing that kept him from killing himself was one woman was always kind to him, and because my client never saw her say or do anything unkind to anyone. This kind friend never knew my client was suicidal, but her kindness gave him hope to live one more day, each day, until he was able to overcome his PTSD symptoms and his thoughts of suicide were gone. My client could only think of one truly kind person in the world – this one friend – but because one person was kind and loving towards him and toward others, he reasoned that there must be others who are kind and loving. As a result of one person being kind this Veteran was able to see a little hope even while having thoughts of suicide. This Veteran would be dead today if it weren’t for this one kind person, who to this day is still unaware of the role she played in preventing a tragedy.
Simply by being kind – as this woman did – you can reduce the amount of pain and suffering in the world immeasurably. It may seem like our actions are small and of little consequence, but as the above example shows, even small acts of kindness can have major consequences. In the case of my therapy client the kindness of an acquaintance saved the life of a combat Veteran. Remember this story the next time you think there is nothing you can do to make a dent in all the suffering and pain in the world. You can make a difference in your family by practicing a life of kindness every day. You can make a difference in your workplace and in your community one person at a time. No act of kindness is too small or unimportant. Will some people forget your good deed tomorrow? Perhaps some will, but you may never know how far the practice of kindness will go – the kind acquaintance in my last example never knew that by simply living a life of kindness day in and day out that she gave hope to a suicidal Veteran and kept him alive. Likewise you may never know how far-reaching and powerful the reaches are of your seemingly ordinary acts of kindness – do them anyway. It is vitally important that you do. You have the power to change lives for the better just by practicing kindness daily. You have the power to change our society for the better just by practicing a life of kindness daily. There is so much pain and suffering you can help reduce – and sometimes you will know that you have brightened someone’s day – but sometimes you will never know the fruits of your compassion towards others – be kind anyway.
— Dr. Ron