August 10, 2013

Err in the Direction of Kindness

Posted in Experiences, Inspiring Stories, Philosophers at 9:08 am by tiffanyannbrown

kindnessI read a great piece this this morning from New York Times bestselling American writer George Saunders entitled  “George Saunders’ Advice to Graduates,” which has apparently gone viral.  In reading through the address, there was one section in particular that stood out to me:

So let me just say this.  There are ways.  You already know that because, in your life, there have been High Kindness periods and Low Kindness periods, and you know what inclined you toward the former and away from the latter.  Education is good; immersing ourselves in a work of art: good; prayer is good; meditation’s good; a frank talk with a dear friend;  establishing ourselves in some kind of spiritual tradition – recognizing that there have been countless really smart people before us who have asked these same questions and left behind answers for us. Because kindness, it turns out, is hard – it starts out all rainbows and puppy dogs, and expands to include…well, everything.

What I enjoyed about this portion of the speech is that Saunders focuses on what luminaries like Gandhi, Lao Tzu, and Mother Teresa have known for centuries: that kindness expands to include everything.  Because that is such a large statement, below are a couple of quotes on kindness from notable people across the centuries, which offer some insights into this concept:

  • “What wisdom can you find that is greater than kindness?” ― Jean Jacques Rousseau
  • “Kindness in words creates confidence. Kindness in thinking creates profoundness. Kindness in giving creates love.” ― Lao Tzu
  • “Three things in human life are important: the first is to be kind; the second is to be kind; and the third is to be kind.” ― Henry James
  • “My religion is very simple. My religion is kindness.” ― Dalai Lama XIV
  • “No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.” ― Aesop
  • “The simplest acts of kindness are by far more powerful then a thousand heads bowing in prayer.” ― Mahatma Gandhi

The more wisdom achieved, the more likely it is for people to come to the realization that kindness plays a much more important role in this world that one might initially think. While this goes against most of which is unconsciously taught in American culture (“every man for himself”), kindness is something that I believe each person inherently knows has value, and is something each person must work out on his own and experience for his or herself before understanding the true rewards and dividends it pays.

An Amazing Example of Kindness

Of the many “enlightened” people I know who have caught on to the concept of and true importance of kindness, one example stands out above the rest. I have a co-worker currently battling her third round of cancer who has maintained a blog about her experience for years now. In a recent post, she discussed how she celebrated her 38th birthday. In light of cancer, the way she chose to spend her birthday was not with a fancy dinner or wild weekend getaway. Instead, she decided to perform 38 random acts of kindness for her 38th birthday. She writes:

Today was honestly the best birthday I’ve ever had! I realized that it is so easy to bring joy and smiles to other people. I’m so grateful that I was able to complete this list and I encourage everyone to try doing something life this. Today was the greatest gift of life!

And to better illustrate her continued plight toward incorporating kindness in her life and its unspoken benefits, just last week she wrote a post about attending a Dave Matthews concert in which she talked about the many neat things that happened at the concert. Despite being very sick and encouraged not to travel, she wrote: “on the ride I told everyone they had to give one random act of kindness at some point during the night to get our karma back in balance. Apparently that worked because I met a few random angels that night … more to come.” You can read that post here.

Kindness is Catching On

I’ve been fascinated for some time now about how the concept of  how “kindness” is catching on across America. First and foremost the concept of “conscious capitalism” comes to mind, which is a movement in the business world whereby companies have begun to incorporate as “Benefit Corporations.” According to the B Corporation web site, benefit corporations give business leaders legal protection to pursue a higher purpose than profit, and they offer investors and the public greater transparency to protect against pretenders. In short, benefit corporations are manifestations of corporate-level kindness and an example of how business leaders are realizing the importance of kindness at a higher level.

From the Conscious Capitalism web site, there is a quote that reads:

Pioneering naturalist John Muir observed that ‘when you tug at a single thing in nature, you find it attached to the rest of the world.’ Such is the case with business, which is an intricate and interconnected web of relationships.

In short, businesses are recognizing the interconnectedness of the world around us and seeing that kindness, or giving back rather than taking from, is the basis of what makes the world go round.

Think Kindness 

In a similar fashion, there is an organization based in Reno, Nevada known as “Think Kindness” that also continues to intrigue me. The founder recently gave a TED talk where he talked about how he went from working a “suit and tie job” to founding a non-profit based on the concept of “kindness.”  You can learn more about his story, here (begin at 4 minutes and 25 seconds):

While the goal of the Think Kindness organization is simply to inspire acts of kindness around the world―of which you can read more about the many ways in which it is doing so through its web site―there are also now tangible ways of tracking kindness for those wanting to incorporate more kindness into their lives, or for those wanting to track the ripple effect that random acts of kindness have throughout the world for themselves. Learn more about “kindness cards,” here.

Practicing Kindness

There have been many studies done recently linking the practice of kindness and compassion to such health benefits as less stress and anxiety, a strengthened immune system, lower levels of harmful stress hormones, and increased vagal function, which has been associated with efficient regulation of glucose and inflammation, as well as lower incidence of heart disease and diabetes.  For these reasons and all of the others listed so eloquently in  the George Saunders speech noted above, why not kindness? When all else fails, err in the direction of kindness.

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