“It's a little embarrassing that after 45 years of research & study, the best advice I can give people is to be a little kinder to each other.” Aldous Huxley, English writer, philosopher
After reading my last blog (Creating The State of Our Union: Out With Rudeness, In With Kindness), my husband, John, wanted to give me some feedback. He was concerned about the post office story. Highlighting the rude behavior of the customer bothered him.
“As human beings we are already too attracted to poor behavior – we get stuck there. We need to pay more attention to good behavior. That’s how we turn things around. Plus that woman in the story at the post office. She calmed down. She got better and eventually complimented the clerk,” he said.
John has a point. Most of us who have been teachers know he speaks some truth.
Getting too caught up in pointing out all the mistakes students/people make does not energize us, inspire us to do better.
I don’t want to do that. However, we need to educate ourselves, become more skilled and thoughtful.
We need to understand that common, “small” discourtesies can hurt human beings cognitively, psychologically, and physically. It also seems wise to offer our newish understanding around emotional contagion. We may need to take certain precautions to shield others and ourselves from spreading a behavioral “bug” which is not so innocuous, but rather has the power to create a cultural pandemic of sorts.
That all being said, I do want to honor John's truth, to point us back to a different story, captured in a blog I wrote in April. It took place at the Cashmere post office too.
A small commotion commenced. A postal customer seemed embarrassed and perplexed. The credit card machine was not accepting her card. She needed to send a package. The package contained medicine her husband had forgotten as he rushed to catch a plane.
Several people started worriedly murmuring to each other. I ran outside to get my purse out of the car. By the time I came back inside, the woman was leaving. As it turned out one of the postal workers had gone in the back room and gotten her own purse and paid for the lady’s package.
“You can’t do that,” I said, disbelief in my voice.
“I just did, “the postal worker swiftly replied as she scurried on processing others’ transactions.
Perhaps you, like me, have seen all sorts of acts of selfless kindness – some big, some small, some random, some planned. And you’ve wondered. How is that we “selfish brutes” are having these sorts of glitches in our programming?
Let me propose an idea which I've gathered from reading research about the emerging science of compassion. Perhaps it isn’t a species malfunctioning at all. Maybe we human beings are wired to feel compassion and care for others. We may be, as one researcher claims, born to be good.
Darwin himself suggested it. In fact, he proposed that those highest in sympathy, the nurturers, were best suited for collective human survival! From an evolutionary standpoint, doing kind acts for others may be exactly what nature has rigged us for.
Evolution can be a controversial topic, I bring it up only because Darwin’s thinking is often mistakenly used to prop up what may be false all-about-me notions of human nature. Look at other evidence.
From physiological and psychological perspective, it seems that kindness is a very good thing. Not just for the recipient of a kindness, we get happier just watching someone else be kind.
If we are the ones being kind, here’s what happens to us. We get surges of good-feeling chemicals. We feel less anxious. Our shyness recedes and our confidence grows. Our heart rate and blood pressure go down. We feel happier. Others find us more attractive and seek us out as friends and mates.
Kindness and compassion are also quite good for our communities. Kind communities not only feel good to their inhabitants, as places of high trust; but also, according to economists, are much more prosperous.
Bottom line. If all of us were a bit more kind and compassionate, we’d get a big bang for our buck out of it. We’d be “better off” and happier, so would everyone else.
Suppose you and I want to seriously kick up our kindness ... perhaps as a spiritual, good life, or moral stretch, what might we do? Here’s a practice researchers recommend. You may have heard of it.
“Five Acts of Kindness.” For six weeks. We experiment with doing kind acts one day a week (six days total).
We reflect on the effect of doing kind acts on ourselves and others (perhaps write or talk about it). Researchers recommend doing five acts all in one day, each week.
We plan our five acts of kindness ahead (so not random). We might choose Wednesday as the day we will commit to doing kind acts. As we consider what we might do for others we decide:
1) to send a card to or call someone who is in the hospital
2) to buy a colleague (or a stranger) a latte
3) to help a friend – maybe shovel their driveway or take them some cookies.
4) to call our mother, daughter, or old friend
5) to talk smile at a stranger, even say hello, or briefly chat.
That’s it. We can engage in this particular practice anytime we want to effectively ramp up our kindness (and good life).
Sounds easy enough to pay a bit more attention to others, be a bit more thoughtful, kind. But if you are like me, I can get pretty caught up in my own stuff.
Suddenly I realize that life isn’t going so well for me. I’m anxious and lost, not myself. I flounder around desperately thinking about all the books I’ve read, the lectures I’ve heard, as I try to give myself direction for getting back to the good life.
Then I recall the opening quotation, the advice, offered by writer and philosopher Aldous Huxley to just be little kinder. It lifts my spirits, puts spring in my step. I am reminded of what I may be born to do - however I choose to do it.
How might we practice a little more kindness and Journey to The Good Life together?