I don’t believe the world is full of assholes. I do believe there are enough of them spread around so we encounter at least one a day. We’re all assholes sometimes, yours truly very much included, but that doesn’t stop us from becoming a better person. I believe the majority of us have what it takes to be genuinely and conscientiously kind to each other; and I think most of us truly want to be.
Ever since I can remember, my dream has been to be part of something that helps people (except when I was 7 when my dream was dinosaurs). I’m not saying this to play the martyr as I whip my own back *slash* “oh damn I’m so nice” *whak! * “kindessss!!!”. Rather, I think all of us have that voice inside our head. That voice that doesn’t necessarily tells us what to do and what not to do, but that warns us when something doesn’t feel good or right. That voice can be seen as our ethical conscious, our own moral compass if you will…
The schools of ethics
There are 3 schools of ethics: virtue ethics, consequentialism and duty-based ethics. Virtue ethics focuses on the kind of person you want to be and the virtues which would get you closer to that goal. Consequential ethics focuses on whether something is good and what impact your behavior has on the world. Essentially, is your behavior making the world a better place? And finally, duty-based ethics focuses on whether something is right and arriving at setting our ethical principles through reason. Much like how living a healthy life can be achieved through exercise, good eating habits and mental health awareness; making a moral and ethical choices can be achieved through applying different ethical approaches. Each one stands strong on its own, but considering them all together can help us reach the best ethical decisions as we apply them differently to different situations.
What’s in it for us?
Some people might argue that the only reason we are kind to each other is because we believe we’ll get something out of it. Be it so others will like us, because we need something or (if we want to dig a little deeper) some religious ideologies promise a reward or punishment based on our actions. The latter has been a topic of discussion on many wine-induced evenings with friends. I won’t hide the fact that I’m personally not a big fan of organised religion (that doesn’t mean I don’t respect it nor condemn those who follow it). But I feel you don’t need religion to be seen as someone who has morals. “If you can’t determine right from wrong you lack empathy, not religion” (Anonymous). I tend to agree with Ricky Gervais who stated that if the only reason you are a good person is because you expect a reward in Heaven or fear punishment in Hell then, you’re not truly a good person. If we are able to put ourselves in other people’s shoes and share their thoughts and feelings, we are able to accept different viewpoints whether we agree with them or not; and that, to me, is the basis of what really determines our morals and our ethical decisions to be kind.
So why do it?
Why choose to be good every day if there is no guaranteed reward we can count on, not now or in the afterlife? When referring back to the beginning of this article, where I stated that I believe all people have it in them to be kind, we could argue that we choose to be good because of our bond with others and our innate desire to treat each other with dignity. Simply put, we are not in this alone.
Ways to be kind
How we view the world is the first step to being nice. Be the kind of person who sees the glass as half full and don’t be afraid to try and see the good in everyone. It’s not always there, unfortunately, but that doesn’t mean we have to stop trying. The bad stuff is out there, that’s life. Good and bad coexists more than we realize, but the bad stuff won’t always spread if we choose not to share it.
- Say ‘no’ to naysayers
Practicing kindness isn’t always easy, especially when some people equate it to weakness. Being kind requires a certain type of courage. People have called me naive for wanting to see the good in everything, but it’s become a defensive mechanism after a career in working with survivor of trauma, sexual abuse and being confronted with some of the truly heinous horrors that life can throw at us. I’d rather be a tad more naive, and focus on finding the good that’s left, then being a cynical bitch that only sees the bad in everything. With that attitude come many things, circumstances and people that try and take you down a peg, but don’t let them. What you stand for, believe in and work hard at should be things you are proud of, not ashamed. When someone is unkind to you, that’s about them, not you. And what kind of person gives you shit for trying to be nice anyway, I mean really….
- Be kind, always
I’m not encouraging anyone to go around wearing a crown of freshly picked daisies, hugging strangers and ignoring any feelings of sadness or anxiety. Of course, we’re only human and the grumps do need to come out just as much as the smiles. But just bear in mind, before deflecting some of these negative feelings onto someone else, that your behavior impacts others. “People forget what you said and people forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” (Maya Angelou). Apply some of the ethical approaches we discussed earlier and stop and think before you talk – is it true? is it necessary? is it kind? Everyone has their own story and even if someone is not nice to you, is there value in reciprocating the same attitude? You get what you put out there and killing them with kindness is going to work a lot better than stooping down to their level.
- Even the smallest gestures can make a difference
We don’t have to donate a large sum of money or go out of our way to be a nice person. Being kind can be as simple as a smile, saying thank you or encouraging someone when they need it. It’s a way of connecting with someone, however brief the moment. It doesn’t have to be big, but what’s important is that it’s genuine and thoughtful for another person. For example, merely smiling and greeting the homeless person on the street can be just as valuable when you have nothing physical to give them. Returning something that fell out of someone’s pocket, giving up your seat on the train or finding the rightful owner of a lost piece of jewelry are all opportunities that can pop up and give us the chance to be kind. We only need to keep our eyes open and pay attention to the world around us to see chances to help. Kindness is contagious and you never know just how big of an impact a small gesture of kindness can really have.
- It’s good for your Health
Not only can being kind have an impact on those around us, research has shown being kind is also good for our health. Professor Stephen Post suggests that there is a strong correlation between the well-being, happiness and health of people who are kind. He argues that it is difficult to be resentful, angry or afraid when someone is showing selfless love towards another person. Other research by Alan Luks confirms the finding that being kind can release dopamine (a feel good neurotransmitter in the brain). His research showed people reporting a clear physical sensation when doing something kind for someone else. They reported feeling more energetic, warm and calmer with a greater sense of self-worth, a phenomenon he dubbed the “helper’s high”.
- Be kind to yourself
We’re all our own worst critics and being kind to ourselves is the first step in wanting to share it with others. So give yourself a break… We’re quick to recognize achievement from others, but we don’t always dwell in our own. There’s nothing wrong in giving yourself a good pat on the back once in a while. Give yourself time, recognize your strengths and work on your weaknesses. Forgive yourself when you mess things ups…because at some point in your life (as a minimum) you will mess up. Trust yourself to learn from mistakes and don’t set yourself up for failure by trying to be prefect. When it comes to being kind, the only thing you can do is your best and that’s enough.
- Inspire kindness in others and in yourself
For us to encourage others, we must first lead by example (duhr). So going out of our way for others, being a good neighbor, supporting someone even when they don’t ask for help, being grateful, not criticizing people’s effort and genuinely showing respect are all ways to encourage kindness.
Being kind in a shitty world is not always easy, but we’ve got to start somewhere. This wouldn’t be a feel-good post without your typical feel-good quote to finish it off; so “be the change you wish to see in the world” (Gandhi)… and also “don’t be an asshole” (me).