Kindness, Anyone?

"We can live without religion and meditation, but we cannot survive without human affection."
The Dalai Lama

What is the price of kindness? What is the cost of meanness? It seems to take a great effort for some people to be nice to others. Maybe they don’t think the stranger is worthy of their consideration, or maybe they are in a hurry or feeling stressed. Maybe nobody taught them to be nice, so they don’t see the problem with the cruel comment or the curt reply. But there is a problem.

We all have our moments of short temper or lack of consideration, and we all want life to go smoothly, but when we are unkind, we create turbulence that we, or somebody, is going to have to deal with. Sharing our negative vibes, we are likely to get negative vibes right back. The simple request turned aside callously becomes a demand. The disagreement becomes a confrontation. The argument becomes a fight. In the end, the person who couldn’t strain themselves to be courteous finds themselves in an emotional upheaval that takes much more energy than a kind response would have taken.

What happens when we are kind to another? Most often, the other person relaxes. They become more cooperative. They may extend a kindness back to us. Normally, they won’t hit us or call us names. They see us as no threat, so their defenses come down. Maybe they become our friend. How much nicer it is to think that our community is populated with friends rather than with enemies. How much nicer to think that when payback comes it will be for kindness, rather than for cruelty.

Think about your interactions with people. Are they mostly pleasant, or do they often seem full of conflict?

What is the source of the conflicts you have? If you think it is because other people are jerks, think again. It is possible to have pleasant interactions even with people who appear supremely obnoxious. It may take a little more effort on your part, but there are very few people on this planet who won’t respond to compassion and kindness.

Here are some suggestions for generating more kindness and affection in your life:

Take your time. Try to avoid being in a hurry. When we are rushed it is more difficult to be patient with others, and we are more likely to speak without thinking.

Stay centered. If you are well grounded, rested, and nourished, you will be more resilient in challenging relationships. Regular meditation helps us to stay balanced and to act through a compassionate heart.

Reserve judgement. Unless you know a person very well, you don’t know their motivations, and no matter how well you know them, you don’t know what experiences brought them to this place. Avoid imputing evil intent before you know the circumstances of someone’s actions.

Connect with a greeting. People like to be noticed. Use greetings to establish that you know they are there. Use their name if possible. A solid handshake, in appropriate circumstances, is a sign of goodwill or even affection.

Be aware of your tone of voice. Your tone says more than your words, so watch it.

Acknowledge concerns. If the person you are talking to thinks you are trying to understand their point of view, they will try to help you do that. If they think you don’t care, they may feel they need to up the ante to get your concern.

Be of service. Ask yourself, "How can I serve?" When we give of ourselves, we get back what we would like to receive. If not, we at least know that we have fulfilled one of the requirements of a meaningful life.

Be curious. People respond well to people who seem interested in them.

Use compliments. A few kind words cost you nothing, and they show you are aware of the good in the other person.

Smile. A smile is the quickest and easiest way to express goodwill. It makes you feel good too.

More Hugging. Nothing expresses personal warmth like a well-executed hug. Get in the habit of hugging your friends and family. It shows you appreciate them, and as family therapist Virginia Satir said, "It takes four hugs each day to be normal, eight for maintenance and twelve for growth."

Humor. Sharing the funny side of experience creates a bond between the co-laughers.

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© 1999-2002 Tom Barrett