“A random act of kindness, no matter how small, can make a tremendous impact on someone else’s life,” wrote Roy T Bennett in his book The Light in the Heart. This thought is also the underlying theme of the film Pay it Forward. In the film, a little boy triggers a chain reaction of kindness in his neighbourhood as part of a class assignment. He asks recipients of kindness to, in turn, participate in three random acts of kindness instead of returning the favour. In the end, their kindness creates a ripple effect of happiness, and the boy’s neighbourhood becomes more close-knit.
Many of us strive to be kind and compassionate. But do we understand what kindness truly means? Most of the time, we limit kindness to an act of charity. When asked to recall an incident of kindness, marketing professional Balaji Subramanian instantly remembered a homeless person who often lingers around a tea stall near his workplace. “He is an old man–frail and skinny. Whenever I see him, I usually give him some money, buy him a packet of biscuits and a cup of tea,” he says. Not that it is wrong, but kindness is much more than charity. As Plato once put it: “Kindness is more than deeds. It’s an attitude, an expression, a look, a touch. It is anything that lifts a person.”
Kindness needn’t cost a dime. Sometimes, just sparing our time for someone could be an act of kindness. For instance, Sai Siddharth, a first-year college student, likes spending time with his grandmother because it makes her happy. “Mom and dad are busy with work from dawn to dusk. And I know my grandma feels bored, being left all alone at home. So, my sister and I spend time with her so that she doesn’t feel lonely,” he says.
Little acts of kindness can benefit both the giver and the receiver.
Indeed, kindness can fill our home with love and happiness. Similarly, it can have a positive effect on a work place as well. Scientist and author Dr Emma Seppala has researched on this exclusively. In her book The Happiness Track, Dr Seppala writes: “In addition to being pleasant and easy to work with, compassion makes you trustworthy.” She also explains how compassion and kindness breed positive work culture and increase productivity.
Besides increasing the efficiency of employees, kindness can also inspire loyalty in customers. Here is how a kind gesture worked wonders for a children’s toy company owner, Paul Warner. He happened to see a comment on the brand’s Facebook page. A disappointed customer had mentioned how her daughter’s birthday present had gotten lost during shipment. To cheer the mother and daughter up, Warner had the toy delivered to them, free of cost. His gesture created a buzz, and with all the positive word-of-mouth publicity, Warner set an example for other business owners.
Clearly, little acts of kindness can benefit both the giver and the receiver. Believe it or not, kind gestures even have the potential to save lives! Bharat Singh, a Chennai-based nurse, has witnessed the effect kindness has on human life. He remembers one of his patients who was ailing from a chronic kidney disease and had stopped responding to treatment. “But things changed when his daughter (whom he was very fond of) came to take care of him. Her compassion and care inspired him to get better. Over the next two years, he slowly recovered, and now, he leads a normal life,” Bharat claims.
Easy to understand and practice, self-kindness involves accepting ourselves for what we are, with all our inherent flaws.
Doesn’t every life on the planet deserve such kindness? Unfortunately, we seldom show compassion towards plants and animals. Interestingly, several researches show that even plants are sensitive to smell, touch and sounds. Some scientists even believe that plants are able to differentiate between a friend and a threat. “If only each of us extended our kindness to plants and animals, then we wouldn’t need laws prohibiting us from destroying Mother Nature. Our compassion would automatically stop us from hurting any life form,” nature lover Prashanth B points out.
Of course, Prashant is right. Yet, it seems so hard for us to be kind. It could be that we don’t know where to begin. Perhaps, practising self-kindness is a good way to start. Easy to understand and practice, self-kindness involves accepting ourselves for what we are, with all our inherent flaws. It is about not being too hard on ourselves when something goes wrong.
Practising self-compassion could make us more emotionally resilient, thereby improving our happiness quotient. According to psychologists, self-compassion empowers us to be more kind and compassionate towards others. Academician Dr Kristin D Neff writes in one of her research papers: “There is some evidence that self-compassion stimulates parts of the brain associated with compassion in general.” According to her, self-compassionate individuals have heightened feelings of empathy and kindness for others.
Clearly, kindness stems from within each of us. The kinder we are towards ourselves, the happier we are. And the happier we are, the kinder we are towards others. It is quite a cyclical process at that. Who knows? Eventually, our kindness could even make a profound and positive difference in the world.