by Karen Katafiasz
Small acts of kindness can change people’s lives. We know this from stories about people who found hope and courage and sustenance, some who even abandoned suicidal thoughts, when someone was kind to them. The media, especially certain websites and social media, often depict random acts of kindness, which usually come from strangers in the form of simple gestures—maybe a smile, a compliment, a paid-for cup of coffee. Some of these accounts show how the givers of kindness, too, are changed and healed when they act with compassion.
Stories of kindness can be powerful. They’re life-affirming counterpoints to the atrocities, selfishness, and hate that fill so much of the news. They reassure us that most people are basically good. They underscore the bond we have with those with whom we share the planet. And they touch the mystery of the connection we all have to the Sacred. Maria Popova, creator of Brainpickings.org, a website of ideas, describes acts of kindness as “the greatest gift one human being can give another—these sacred exchanges that take place in a moment of time, often mundane and fleeing, but echo across a lifetime with inextinguishable luminosity.”
Working your way through
We learn about these incidents of unexpected kindness and healing, and even from a distance, they can move us, sometimes to tears. In this CareNote, I invite you to take a personal look at your own experiences of kindness. They are important and powerful and, like every experience you undergo, they affect all the dimensions of your holistic self: the physical, mental, psychological, and spiritual.
Soothe your mind.
Life can sometimes seem overwhelming. The daily problems, to-do lists, and worries that fill your head can leave your mind unfocused, your thoughts scattered. Some people create a personal “mission statement” that names their life’s purpose and keeps them on track for doing what truly matters. Making kindness part of your mission can restore focus and give you purpose. And a life of purpose and meaning is key to happiness, researchers have found.
Acting with kindness can also be a way to relieve your sense of helplessness and despair when news of suffering and evil disrupt your thoughts. Know that you can do something, however small, to bring goodness to the world. “Be the change you want to see” is wise advice.
Strengthen your psychological health.
Treating others with kindness can bring you different kinds of emotional healing. For example, when you shift your focus outward to help someone, you can lessen social anxiety and crippling self-consciousness. Being kind to someone who you notice is hurting gives you a perspective that can alleviate your own depression. When you realize that you have the power to make a positive difference in someone’s life, you increase your confidence and self-esteem.
Open yourself to both giving and receiving kindness.
The first of poet Mary Oliver’s “instructions for living” is “Pay attention.” Really see the people around you—a usually talkative co-worker who’s oddly quiet, a woman struggling with three rambunctious kids at the store, a salesclerk who appears distraught. When you make it your intention to be aware of others, you’ll notice opportunities everywhere to be kind. Follow through and you’ll feel better about yourself.
While you’re paying attention to your life, be sure to notice the ways that people are being kind to you. A person holds the door open or asks about your family or patiently helps you resolve a wrong shopping order. Sometimes false pride can make us reluctant to accept or recognize others’ kindness, as if that says we’re weak or incompetent or a failure. What it really says is that we’re all human and that we all have worth. People who are kind to you are accepting you, even though you’re not perfect, just as you are. Let yourself feel your worthiness.
Deepen your spirituality with kindness.
A central teaching of possibly every faith tradition is a variation of the Golden Rule: “Do to others what you would have them do to you.” This is much like saying “be kind.” And “be kind” may at first sound less demanding, more achievable than the more transcendent religious directive to love others. Yet, while love can be theoretical—after all, it’s easy to say “I love people”—kindness is an actual manifestation of love. Kindness is love in action in the grit of daily life.
Each time you offer kindness and gratefully receive it, you discover another expression of love. You learn to open your heart more, to family and friends and those you encounter every day, and also to strangers—the needy, suffering, and victimized who you may know only from news reports or social media postings.
Consider what it would be like to approach life with an attitude of kindness. Your knowledge of what it is to be vulnerable and in pain allows you to reach out with understanding and compassion to others. With each kind act, you overcome your past, the wounds that limited you, emptied you, put holes in your soul. You move beyond self-pity, bitterness, and anger. You become the wounded healer whose kindness to others ends up healing yourself.
Maybe the most hopeful research finding of all is that one person’s kind act can trigger a chain reaction of kindness among others. Think of the energy of healing that could be generated if each of us did our part!
Excerpt taken from Healing Yourself Through Kindness CareNote.