Exercise Your Kindness Muscle

Daily Life | kindness, generosity

November 12, 2015

two little boys with arms around each other

Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.
—Leo Buscaglia

Help make someone’s day
On Friday, November 13, join people around the globe to celebrate World Kindness Day, “a global celebration dedicated to paying it forward and focusing on the good.” Anything from a smile or warm greeting to a heartfelt note or offer of help can make someone’s day—and, it’s contagious! “Those who witness and benefit from others’ acts of kindness are more likely to be kind themselves,” notes Juliana Breines in this Greater Good Science Center article

Kindness is a muscle that needs to be strengthened
Yet, our best intentions to regularly practice kindness can get lost in the busyness and distractions of life. Cultivating kindness and keeping it top of mind takes practice. “Researchers have argued that kindness is like a muscle that needs to be strengthened through repeated use,” writes Breines. If your kindness muscle needs a workout, World Kindness Day is a great day to start.

Acts of kindness that stay with you
We recently asked some of our staff about acts of kindness—witnessed or received—that have stayed with them as well as those they like to offer to others. Here’s what they said. 

Describe an act of kindness you witnessed or received that has stayed with you.
"While navigating an unexpected divorce that left me feeling broken and fragile, I remember how the smile and kindness of a hardware store clerk unexpectedly touched and buoyed me. Little did this man know that that simple act of kindness to a customer is still remembered and cherished today."

"A recent news story, very tragic, made me think about this. A couple was killed in a car crash on Halloween. The police went to their home to inform the next of kin and were confronted with four children in Halloween costumes, waiting for their parents to return from the store with more face paint. The police delayed telling the children their parents had died, and instead made sure they had a great Halloween, while waiting for the closest relative to arrive from seven hours away. The kindness and care shown to the children was amazing."   

"Recently neighbors in my apartment complex hosted a surprise party. Not only did they let me know in advance it might get loud, but the next day I arrived home to find a handmade thank you note and a plate of brownies. It was not at all necessary but it reinforced for me the reciprocal nature of kindness."

"My father-in-law, Chuck, a Vietnam vet, was visiting recently, and as we were leaving a restaurant we approached a man in a wheelchair who was missing one of his legs from the knee down and holiding a sign, 'Homeless vet, anything helps.' Chuck immediately pulled a bill (larger than a $1) from his pocket, but before he made any attempt to hand the man the money, he did something much more meaningful. He stuck his hand out to shake the man's hand and thank him for his service. The first thing I heard Chuck say to him was, 'Welcome home, brother.' They exchanged a few more words and both shared their service history; Chuck informed the man about his time in Vietnam, and the man explained to us how he had lost his leg during Desert Storm. He also shared that within the next month, he would be heading back to the VA to have a third amputation on his leg, this time above the knee. We talked with him for another 10 minutes or so until another homeless man came over, wrapped a blanket around our new friend, and said it was time to get him to the mission before it was full for the night. We both thanked the other man for so kindly looking out for his friend, and all he said to us was, 'We're all we have, we need to take care of each other out here.' So I guess my point in all of this is you never know what someone has been through, but one thing should always be certain...

we are all we have, we need to take care of each other out here."

"Last year around Christmas time I was picking up a few gifts for the kids in my extended family. I saw this cool Nerf Football that lit up, but there was no price on it, so I put it in my cart thinking I'd figure it out at the checkout. Sure enough, while checking out, the football rang up much higher than expected. I was short a few dollars so I asked the cashier to remove it from my order, thinking I'd find something else or come back in a few days when I had more cash. As I was leaving, the man who had been behind me in line chased me down and handed me the football, saying 'Merry Christmas!' He made the purchase for me--I was shocked but managed to thank him before quickly ran off."

Describe an act of kindness you witnessed or received in the workplace.
"I arrive early to work. A colleague who comes in shortly after I do shares a sing-song greeting of 'good morning' each day when she arrives. It makes my morning instantly cheerful."

"A workmate opened a monthly staff meeting by sharing a tailor-made acknowledgement for each of us that began with 'thank you for your....' (This was no small feat since there were 40+ of us in the room that day!) For me this was a perfect reminder and invitation to say the nice things we often keep inside or think we don't have the time to share."

What simple act of kindness do you like to offer? Why?
"Giving (and receiving) statements like 'My, you wear that color well' are welcome affirmations that can set a nice tone for the day."

"Mini acts of kindness that I extend regularly: I often let people with fewer items go in front of me at the store checkout. I also give my seat to my elders when in crowded restaurant waiting areas and elsewhere."

Tell us, what act(s) of kindness have stayed with you?