Kindness isn’t a very psychological word. No one ever got diagnosed with kindness, so it tends to be ignored in a diagnostic setting. But kindness is central to any understanding of human nature and behaviour.
Kindness is helping others. It manifests in behaviour, but has its roots in a positive intention towards others. In other words, we can fake helpful behaviour, but if we do not have helpful intentions, then it may become obvious that we are not showing true kindness.
THE BENEFITS OF KINDNESS
- It can generate a sense of belonging in the giver, making them feel more a part of a community
- It can improve the social atmosphere, leading to further acts of cooperation in the future
- It makes the giver generally happier
- It makes us more likely to be accepted by, and attractive to, others
- It leads to a reduction in risk of illness (anger and resentment do the opposite, and tend to make us more ill)
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Beyond this, kindness can have a more general harmonising effect. It’s creative. In art and design, a good work is something which brings together disparate interests in harmonious correlation. A kind act does the same thing.
BALANCING KINDNESS WITH SELF-CARE
In general, we can all do with practicing more kindness. However, there are times when our resources are so depleted that we need to regroup inside our own heads, and get some rest and recuperation. At such times, we may need to withdraw from helping others in order to get into better shape. Even ambulances need to be restored and maintained sometimes.
KINDNESS AND MENTAL HEALTH
I specialise in working with anxiety and depression. Anxiety is often increased when we fear for ourselves. In contrast, when we are engaged in a kind act, we are not really thinking of ourselves, and therefore it gives us a break from fear. In this way, kindness can reduce anxiety.
Depression sometimes involves a retreat into the self, and into a profound sense of isolation. Strangely, volunteering to help others can help us to forget ourselves, and we can discover that we have improved more than we thought possible. This is partly because depression is a kind of sensory deprivation (we see no point in relating, and so we deprive ourselves of opportunities to relate). Volunteering to help others pushes us away from such solitary confinement.
A WARNING ABOUT KINDNESS
Many people, religions and philosophies have taken on kindness as a core value. This can have a sinister side – many feudal systems depend on encouraging citizens to remain cooperative in order to suppress them. We have to be wise, and ensure that our values of kindness are not misused to cause suffering through manipulation.
This abuse of kindness can happen in friendships and families, if one dominant person accuses others of unkindness whenever they challenge them. We need to keep an eye on the whole picture. Sometimes we need to disturb a person in the short term, to secure a kindness to others in the longer term.
KINDNESS IN EVERYDAY LIFE
Finally, we do not need to be grand in our giving. We can effect small, random acts of kindness everywhere we go. Examples include:
- Being attentive to others
- Taking time to be with others
- Giving companionship
- Checking in on others
- Letting others go first
- Small gifts
- Small messages of appreciation
These small acts can have great effects when they multiply between people. They slowly transform everyone’s intentions, and lead to reciprocation of kindnesses. Collaboration becomes more common. By being kind, we make our whole world kind.