“If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers, the second greatest favor you can do them is to present them with copies of The Elements of Style. The first greatest, of course, is to shoot them now, while they’re happy.” ~Dorothy Parker
Taking a break from kindness posts for some shameless self-promotion. I am thrilled that a short essay I submitted to Dorothy Parker’s Ashes was accepted for publication in the latest issue. The theme of this issue is “libido.” And there’s quite an array of libidinous essays to be found should you be in the mood for things lascivious. Mine is entitled “Parental Guidance.”
If you’re not familiar with Dorothy Parker’s Ashes, it’s a delectable online journal of essays and poetry written by women. Each issue has a theme. I’d encourage any female writers reading this (and I know there are many) to check out DPA and consider writing something for one of their upcoming themes. Here’s a link to their Submit page that lists themes and deadlines. You can also subscribe for free.
If the journal’s name seems odd to you, it’s a delightful reminder of just who Dorothy Parker was and the circuitous journey her remains took following her death in 1967. Parker, you’ll recall, was the quick and acerbic wit who delivered such bon mots as “A hangover is the wrath of grapes” and “I don’t care what is written about me so long as it isn’t true.” She was well-known as a critic, poet, short-story writer, and screenwriter. Parker was also known for her caustic humor, her liberal leanings, and her participation in the famed Algonquin Round Table, along with Robert Benchley, Alexander Woollcott, George S. Kaufman, Harold Ross, and several other of the top critics, writers, and humorists of the early-twentieth century. Later, she was among the many writers and actors blacklisted during the McCarthy era. When she died of a heart attack at age 73, she bequeathed her estate to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and upon King’s death, to the NAACP. Continue reading →
“My greatest fear has always been that I would be afraid—afraid physically or mentally or morally—and allow myself to be influenced by fear instead of by my honest convictions.” ~Eleanor Roosevelt
In earlier posts, we talked about how both kindness and unkindness are contagious—literally—and how in every encounter, we have a choice of which contagion we want to spread. And we talked about all the benefits of choosing kindness—improved health, professional success, reduced stress, better sleep, more creativity, more satisfying relationships….
It would seem to be a no-brainer: with all this evidence for the rewards of kindness, who but the most depraved or deprived among us would not opt for kindness and civility? Well, it’s not that simple. There are factors that get in the way of our choosing kindness, and others that provoke us to behave unkindly even if we would wish otherwise.
Today, let’s look at the biggest barrier, and we’ll examine some of the others in future posts.
Fear is #1
Among the many factors that prevent us from extending kindness and receiving kindnesses, or that sometimes cause us to behave unkindly, the biggest one is fear. And fear comes in a lot of flavors:
Fear of having our kindness rejected or misunderstood. Have you ever extended a kindness and had it spurned. Perhaps you offered a seat on the bus, or asked someone if you could carry their packages and they responded as if insulted by your insinuation that they needed help. That sort of response makes us wary to try again. We have no control over how another person will respond to our kind gesture. Maybe they aren’t ready to receive, but that doesn’t mean we don’t try. Continue reading →
“Give, give, give—what is the point of having experience, knowledge or talent if I don’t give it away? Of having stories if I don’t tell them to others? Of having wealth if I don’t share it? I don’t intend to be cremated with any of it! It is in giving that I connect with others, with the world and with the divine.” ~Isabel Allende
We all know people who withhold their gifts. For whatever reason, they choose not to share a favorite recipe, contribute their expertise, bestow a compliment … or extend a kindness. Too often, they die with the gift they were meant to offer locked away in a drawer or clutched tightly in their fist.
Such miserliness may come from a sense that our talents will not be fully appreciated or compensated. So we hold back, waiting for just the right time—which never comes. Or maybe our offering isn’t perfect yet—thus, we hesitate and wait, afraid to admit our imperfection, or see the trap that’s always shrouded within the illusion of perfection. Still others of us were raised to have a sense of scarcity: if I give what I have, there will be less for me. I must hoard my treasures, otherwise I will somehow be diminished.
“When you carry out acts of kindness you get a wonderful feeling inside. It is as though something inside your body responds and says, yes, this is how I ought to feel.” ~Harold Kushner
It’s not crass to ask about the personal benefits of being kind. Neither is it selfish. It’s both healthy and human to think about how our behaviors might reward or punish us, and most of us naturally gravitate toward the actions and attitudes that reward us in some way. Kindness is just such a benefactor. Let’s look at all the good reasons to step up our kindness and also try to expand it in the world around us:
On the health front: when we experience kindness—whether directly or even just witnessing it—our body produces the hormones serotonin and oxytocin, which lower our blood pressure, reduce inflammation, fight heart disease, and slow aging.
The endorphins kindness produces in us have been shown to reduce chronic pain, increase happiness, boost the body’s immune system, decrease depression, and offer us an overall feeling of well-being. In the last month, a new study was released showing that kindness is as effective or more effective than drugs or therapy in relieving serious anxiety or depression.
If kindness were a prescription medication or vitamin, we’d call it a miracle drug.
The business case for kindness: There’s abundant evidence that businesses with kind cultures are more successful. They consistently have: Continue reading →
“Kindness begins with the understanding that we all struggle.” ~Charles Glassman
When I talk to groups about kindness, I am always asked if there is a difference between being kind and being nice. For some, the difference may be merely semantic, but I think there’s more to it. While the outward behavior may appear the same, if we dig down, we see that there are significant differences in attitude, intention, and even energy between nice and kind.
Nice is doing the polite thing, doing what’s expected of me. I can be nice without expending too much effort, without making a connection. I can even be nice and still merely tolerate someone with my teeth gritted in a false smile, while making judgments about them and inwardly seething with impatience.
Kindness asks more of me. It asks me to withhold judgment, to genuinely care about the other person and whether they’re getting what they need from our interaction. Kindness forges connections. It also makes me vulnerable, because I don’t know how my kind action will be received—it may be rejected or misunderstood. With kindness, I risk jumping into unknown waters; with niceness, I stay safely on shore. Continue reading →