Kindness or to be kind is a part of human nature. Sometimes I wonder when I hear of a person in my local town using a board requesting donations for a particular cause who then on opening your purse or wallet to give a donation, grabs it from you and runs away. Certainly, one side of that is being kind, the other side preying on the goodness and kindness of humanity for their own gain.
Are we born mean and unkind? I remember reading “We need to talk about Kevin” by Lionel Shriver at least 10 years ago this book still haunts me with this question despite examining it to the full. My personal belief is that we are not born mean, unkind or evil, our upbringing and society influences our behaviour and we become mean and unkind as a consequence of this. Evil, perhaps being the odd one out from the group, is more about mental and emotional programming whether we know about it or not through different processes when we get into the “wrong” group of people who provide the companionship, “love” recognition that might be craved by a person not receiving it from their family and consequently is vulnerable to such programming. A form of grooming that uses human vulnerabilities to achieve a particular outcome that is usually not beneficial for those who are being abused in this manner.
What is Kindness?
Kindness is the quality of being friendly, selfless, generous, caring and considerate of others with no expectation of something in return. It can be shown through donations given to a “good” cause, something that the giver believes in, but it can also be through a smile, helping someone with their shopping, holding the door open for someone else, calling a neighbour to see how they are and so on. Every small act of kindness ripples outwards into the world and in the process hopefully fosters a wave of people being kind to each other, ever-growing the wave.
Kindness is partly about education by our parents and other influential people in our early years, who through their actions show toddlers, children and adolescents how to be kind through their own actions, and possibly even correction of the infant should they be mean and unkind. That education is further deepened in places such as schools, shops, on public transport when generally out and about.
What happens if the child misses out on this education? This then makes the learning more difficult, simply because it is easier to teach someone when young than when already a teenager with a group of friends who similarly missed out on their education in showing and giving kindness. At that stage in life, it probably comes over as showing weakness and therefore not the “done thing”. Leaving the individual without the true understanding of the impact of showing kindness to others and of others showing kindness to them.
How does Kindness link to Wellbeing?
Small acts of kindness according to Ohio University may reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression in those who suffer from this type of mental illness. The authors from the research department of Ohio University explained “that simple acts of kindness on a regular basis deepened social connection and related dimensions of wellbeing more so than therapies such as cognitive behavioural therapy techniques.” Giving kindness to others helped individuals with anxiety and depression divert their attention from themselves, taking their mind off their own symptoms. Whilst difficult to measure it is thought that being the recipient of kindness can have a greater impact on those receiving than we might think.
Being kind to others can go a long way to improving emotional wellbeing. A study in the Journal of Social Psychology (2019) found that people who performed acts of kindness for seven days boosted their happiness, and the amount of happiness experienced was directly linked to the number of acts of kindness performed.
There are several reasons why being kind benefits mental health, including social and biological effects. Firstly, the act of kindness increases the neurotransmitters, serotonin and dopamine in the brain that are responsible for feelings of satisfaction and overall well. The same act of kindness can also boost oxytocin, the hormone that makes us feel connected to others and that we can trust each other. The three chemicals showed in the research have a profound impact on mood and overall happiness.
Being kind will also reduce levels of stress and the stress hormone, cortisol. A study in the journal Integrative Psychological and Behavioural Science found that “people who practiced a kindness mindset had 23% lower cortisol levels than the average person.” Cortisol when in high levels in the body, causes inflammation and an increase in the risk of weight gain and heart disease. Moreover, doing something nice for others helps strengthen social ties and the sense that each one of us is part of a community.
It would appear that our parliament and House of Commons have forgotten the importance of showing kindness when talking to their counterpart. Over the recent years the process of so-called open debate has and continues to disintegrate into a slanging match of who can shout the loudest. I wait for the day when once again our M.P’s show respect and kindness to one another despite their differences of opinion, approach or policy.
Having gone through Covid and the impact of isolation on mental and physical health bringing communities together through acts of kindness is crucial to re-building a society that cares about each other, fosters community and encourages small acts of kindness on one another. The good thing is it is not difficult for each one of us to show kindness every day through simple random acts which benefits not only the receiver, but you also as the person showing kindness.
Let’s all make a conscious decision and effort to show a simple act of kindness every day and in so doing the wave of kindness will strengthen our society, communities and ourselves, returning to the type of society that we all want to live in.
“Unexpected kindness is the most powerful, least costly and most underrated agent of human change.” - Bob Kerrey