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Column: Step out of your comfort zone and into a kinder one
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Photo by Sandra Chile on Unsplash

Is kindness inherited behavior? Is it learned behavior? What must it be like to have never felt kindness from an unknown person. Does a kindness belief system exist?

As groups of people across sectors go about life proving themselves to be different, privileged, superior or better than others, or extending some level of kindness only to others within their group, are they sustaining systems that actually limit kindness?

Can you personally confess to finding it easier to be rude than kind? These questions don’t feel so out of place during the holiday season. So, shall we chat about them for a bit?  I’ll be kind enough to get us started.

People behave unkindly, mean, sarcastic and rude to others because they let themselves grow into a space where it is simply easier than kinder alternative actions. When things are easy for humans, humans feel smarter, relevant, more validated, even empowered. We double down in confusing ourselves about what kindness is and our children follow us down these easy-slide slopes.

Research shows that performing acts of kindness increases life satisfaction, positive mood, reduces fear and anxiety. We will always encounter people with whom we disagree – we might feel uncomfortable around them. Their views might make us angry. All this in a world where most people feel comfortable reminding others of their weaknesses. 

I like the definition that says kindness is lending someone your strength rather than reminding them of their weaknesses. Fact is, and most of us know it as quiet truth: breaking barriers without holding judgement and criticism, helps us all to get to know people better. Hence, we grow.

Experiencing and extending kindness produces oxytocin – that hormone in both men and women that makes us desire and enjoy people and intimacy, touch, loving, nurturing and even carrying a child through the miracle of birth. It’s the ‘love hormone’ that literally advances life. This science tells us that we are more likely to perform a thoughtful deed when someone does it for us or even by merely witnessing generosity.  We are in turn, stimulated to do more acts of good.

In short time paying forward has a domino effect. It’s also like “Helper’s High” – a phenomenon coined through research at Emory University. Being kind to another person lights up the brain’s pleasure corridors as both the recipient and the giver of the good deed.

Some confuse kindness as being naïve or weak. On the contrary, being kind requires courage, effort and strength. It is a strategic art. In my previous government position, I was asked how I was able to repeatedly bring community members to the table during coalition meetings. My response was, a genuine handshake and a gentle smile is all that was needed.

Kindness is teachable – young people can learn it as a good thing from us. An ancient Greek storyteller once said, “No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.” While random acts of kindness are good, teaching intentional acts of kindness has transferable value.

My children and I had started a Thursday evening tradition a year ago. Thursday evening was fast-food-drive-through-for-supper day. But we agreed that I would pay for the car right behind us. On the paid receipt, I would write, “Smile, it is a beautiful world.”

Right after it was paid for, we would drive away. We didn’t want to be thanked. I wanted to teach intentional kindness to my children. They actually look forward this sort of kindness prank, more so than the happy food.

So, how do we reverse social trends and actually learn the practice of kindness?

Kindness starts from within. Start with self-compassion and self-care. Speak to yourself good things about yourself. Without bringing any harm to anyone, do good things for yourself – good things that are good and healthy for the you that you are.  Self-kindness leads to building resilience, optimism, reducing depression and overall wellbeing.  

Living in the moment – offer a helping hand for those in need. Identifying those suffering silently. Offering a kind word, a smile, just because, even in passing. Not being part of the gossip moment – especially digital gossip. Donating old clothing. Sending thank you notes. Become aware of your fears that prevent you from being kind. Investigate the fear and address it.

Around us all the time are lots of opportunities – one community to the other – to work together and to learn from each other. Listening intently to needs and diversities.  Being intentional as if the concept of this kind of kindness were the basis of a religion of sorts. Perhaps it should be. Sounds familiar? And if it feels a bit uncomfortable, just do it anyway. The freedom will become you soon. 

Nazeera Dawood has a Master's in Public Health from the University of North Carolina and a medical degree from Bangalore University, India. She can be reached at nazeera@ymail.com.