We all think we know what kindness is and why it’s important. Yet there are many instances when people aren’t kind. Defined as ‘the quality of being friendly, generous, and considerate’ by the OED, surely being kind is simple and something that is high on all of our priority lists? So why are there times when people don’t seem to act kindly?
Two questions come to mind when thinking about this.
- Who should we be kind to?
We’re told to be kind to ourselves and to others, but should we be kind to everyone or just to the people that we feel deserve kindness?
When TV presenter Caroline Flack passed away earlier this year, #BeKind was shared thousands of times online with people urging each other to treat others with kindness and to remember that we don’t know what’s going on in people’s minds and what they are struggling with. A Caroline Flack-inspired #BeKind t-shirt raised more than £300,000 for Samaritans, a charity providing support to anyone in emotional distress. There was concern from many however that this public sharing of the importance of being kind was not going to lead to any changes in our behaviour. While talking about kindness is important, it’s actually taking action and being kind that is key.
Recently, when videos showed his neighbours shouting angrily at him when he walked in the street, some people questioned why Dominic Cummings wasn’t being treated with kindness by others. The response by many was that he simply doesn’t deserve it.
Who one person thinks ‘deserves’ kindness will be different from others, and each person might even change their minds from one day to the next.
Should we even get to decide who deserves to be treated with kindness? Perhaps we should treat everyone with a base level of kindness? We will all have different views on this, with factors such as our religious beliefs, our values and our life experiences all influencing our opinion.
What seems clear to me is that simply encouraging other people to be kind, in a general way without thinking about the practicalities and our values around this, is unlikely to result in a significant increase in kindness being shown to everyone.
- Is it possible to be kind to both ourselves and other people all the time?
This is the second question that comes to mind when thinking about why people aren’t kind. Logic would suggest that the answer to this is more clear-cut compared to the first question. It is probably not possible to be kind to ourselves and also to other people all the time. Sometimes, the two will conflict with one another. For example, if you have had a really stressful day at work and want to curl up in front of the TV and then have an early night but your friend has recently broken up with their partner and wants to go out. In this situation, you’re not able to be kind to both yourself and your friend – you have to choose who to be kind to.
Why Kindness is So Important
It’s free, it feels amazing, and we can all do it!
Plus, not only does it make the world a much nicer place to live in, research has found it has a significant positive effect on our mind and body.
Here are three reasons why kindness is important:
- It has been found to improve our health. Research has found that kindness helps to reduce the effects of stress.
- Kind acts lead to a kinder world. Studies have found that when people are on the receiving end of a good deed, they are more likely to carry one out for someone else. So one act of kindness – no matter how small – can have a huge impact on the world, as it creates a chain of kind acts!
- It makes us feel happier. Being kind has been found to increase happiness levels.
Examples of Kindness
Here are some lovely examples of kindness in action:
- An estimated 43 million people across the UK have shown acts of kindness during lockdown
- Swamped by kindness: Severn Hospice receives 1,000 donations in deluge of generosity
- #ViralKindness postcard paves the way for CoronaFriend project to support self-isolating neighbours
- Therapy “dogtor” and owner deliver thousands of care packages to medical professionals during pandemic
Kindness = No Judgement?
Always being kind to ourselves and others might not be possible and there may be people we actively don’t want to be kind to. However, perhaps the best thing to aim for is to try not to too harshly judge ourselves or others and assume we are all trying our best to be kind.