It Costs Nothing To Be Kind. Does it really?

A look at How Society and Culture Shape Our Perception of Kindness.

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Kindness is contagious

Being kind, “expressing kindness, are actions that should not feel like a cost or a chore, but to many, it is a significant effort outside of its euphoric chemical reaction. Listening in on a recent lecture, the speaker reiterates, ‘it costs nothing to be kind.’ — A thought I have carried for most of my adult life, yet thinking about the statement itself, is not without grey areas. This made me start thinking about what we become in the pursuit of kindness. Moreover, how we can become more aware of ‘kindness’ beyond loosely held perceptions and choose to embed it as a core function to how we live, learn and listen.

Is kindness something we are born with? We are indeed born with the ‘capacity to be kind; this, however, is open to development as we grow and learn. Like a blank canvas ready to be painted on. What colours end up on that innocent canvas becomes our perception, interpretation and response to the world.

Dr Lera Boroditsky, a Cognitive Scientist and one of the main contributors to the theory of linguistic relativity, made an interesting point when putting forward the question in a 2017 TEDWomen Talk: “Does the language we speak shape the way we think?” The compelling research and evidence not only suggest but prove — if your language and your culture ‘trains‘ you to do it, yes, you can do it. 

Could it then not be possible to suggest: “Does the system we live within shape the level of kindness we give?” Over the years, we’ve heard many speak of kindness in the context of an act inborn; yet, the expression of ‘kindness’ is, at best, an emotional skill that is highly trainable, developed and learned through many channels and experiences stemming from parenting, society and culture. How we interpret kindness is an engagement to all our senses. The varied array of perceptions surrounding kindness can also falsify the beliefs and values on the usefulness of kindness if one has embraced attitudes of ‘no good deed goes unpunished, or repeated misfortune. Perhaps you’ve had a bad experience with a coworker that results in mistrust; this mistrust based on validated societal responses tells you, that person is not worthy of your kindness. Is this really kindness at all?

The reality is “kindness” isn’t cut and dry and often a complex process for many who cannot see clearly beyond the premise of their immediate situation. You may have heard the phrase “that’s not in his or her nature”, so imagine rewiring your primary consciousness to develop a nature of kindness. What might that look like? 

Research studies compound the idea that kindness is a chemical reaction. Linking ‘random acts of kindness’ to releasing dopamine, a chemical messenger in the brain that can give us a feeling of euphoria. This feel-good brain chemical is credited with what’s known as helper’s high— positive emotions following selfless service to others. In addition to boosting oxytocin and dopamine, being kind can also increase serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps regulate mood. Why then aren’t we all striving to be more kind? Actively seeking out ways to make kindness a core and manifesting art to our lives? The benefits clearly indicate happier, healthier communities, yet it remains a distant reality.

The truth lies in awakening to the realities of our environment and our world. The system on which it is built and governed. The ecosystem within which you coexist. Kindness quickly becomes a currency and can be a highly-priced one for many. The unfortunate truth is that most people that can afford kindness live beyond the typical means that govern much of the ordinary world. Do you need to be wealthy to be kind? Absolutely not, but does it become less of a priority to a person deciding between rent or food? Consider a family or person struggling to make ends meet, living paycheck to paycheck, within the conformity of what is societally accepted only to be constantly beatdown and washed into a never-ending cycle of red tape and corporate language. Does kindness become more expensive for these people or less? Coincidently, some of my most heartfelt moments of ‘kindness’ stemmed from the most unexpected places where wealth was the least of factors and became more impactful when it was unattached to personal gain.

When we judge another person’s harshness compared to our own accepted realities of ‘what constitutes kindness’, should we judge less and consider more on the experiences that lead to certain shaped reactions? If kindness is as basic a human reaction, why would it be so difficult for anyone to consider another’s reality? Perhaps the question isn’t whether a person’s nature is kind or not, but rather: does the system they live in allow them only a certain degree of kindness to give?

Developing a consciousness of kindness and extending kindness are two separate acts.

Forcing ourselves to see beyond the neatly packed paragons around kindness allow us to disrupt the very nature and string of attachments’ kindness’ is often time— resourced. Kindness should be at best: unattached from personal gain, unrewarding and unflattering of self.

The degree of kindness we share, engage, and amplify is heavily rooted in our culture and society’s values and beliefs. In other words, kindness in society is widely quantified, yet in the purest of forms, kindness is priceless and a bedrock to evolving and igniting togetherness and positive change.

In the famous words of Og Mandino —”Beginning today, treat everyone you meet as if they were going to be dead by midnight. Extend to them all the care, kindness, and understanding you can muster, and do it with no thought of any reward. Your life will never be the same again.”

Is kindness subjective, then? In mapping a diverse group of interactions, experiences and opinions on kindness, this is what I found: while we view kindness as a public show of affection, consideration and understanding; the acts themselves are differently perceived by our own state of being, needs, wants and where we are in our particular moment in life. For some kindness means, extending money. For some, it is time, and for others, it is acknowledgement. We show varying levels of kindness in a series of tangible and intangible acts. All shaped by what we’ve been taught as important, taught as worthy, taught as righteous and “accepted” as true. 

The science of kindness tells us that it is just about the only thing in the world that doubles when you share it, from the random act of helping an elderly person across the street, a warm hug, to an anonymous donation for a worthy cause. In which case—kindness is at best, unattached, unflattering and unrewarding of self, unbiased of personal gain and can grow into infinite potential when we become aware.

So if you were to consider this—Would kindness still cost nothing, or is it really the greatest currency of them all? Spend it well. Spend it thoroughly.

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