Want to change the world? Forget the cape and wearing your undies on the outside. Try a little kindness.
Bah, you say. Kindness? How outdated. How menial. It's BIG discoveries we need, not interactions between people.
Yes, it sounds simple, but kindness and the connections it builds are incredibly powerful. Every act of kindness has an impact that can change the course of a person's day and on occasion, their lives. A smile, a compliment, a cup of coffee delivered out of the blue, a door held open, or simply saying 'thanks' can make all the difference to someone.
One of the things I love to do is make another person smile. It's most rewarding if you catch someone completely off guard - the impact is far greater. I was once walking (fighting my way) across downtown Dallas during a tremendous wind storm, and as I approached a street crossing, watched as an older bird-like lady leaned into the wind but weighed so little she was unable to walk against it.
I joined her at the intersection and as the next 'green man' appeared, put one arm around her shoulders and braced her elbow with the other. We leaned into that nasty gale and between us, made it across the street, up a set of steps to her building, pried open the door, and stepped inside without incident, laughing hysterically as we caught our breath. I have no idea what her name was, but she told me how grateful she was for that small act of kindness. She'd waited at that intersection through several light changes and watched as people walked right past her. She was almost frozen in place, afraid to turn back for fear the wind would knock her down, but having no clue as to how she'd get across the street.
Helping her was a little thing for me, but it was big for her. The reason I stopped? I can see someone I love in a similar situation and I hope that they would find a helping hand just when they need it.
We have no idea what's going on in another person's head, and sometimes your act of kindness might be the very thing they need to show them they're not alone in this big bad world. And I'll let you in on a little secret. While kindness can have enormous repercussions for the person you're delivering it to, you benefit as well.
In his book Why Kindness is Good for You, Dr. David R. Hamilton identifies three ways that kindness benefits the giver:
1) It makes us happier by causing the level of dopamine, the "feel good" hormone, in the brain to rise. The incident on the windy day with the little old lady? That happened over twenty years ago, and it still makes me smile every time I think of it. (New research is also showing that in addition to making us feel good, increasing the level of dopamine in the brain might have a positive impact on memory. Anything that helps me remember where I left the car keys is a good thing.)
2) It lowers blood pressure. Your act of kindness stimulates the release of oxytocin in the brain and throughout the body, causing blood vessels to expand, lowering blood pressure and in effect, protecting your heart. Cool, eh?
3) Kindness can even slow aging. According to Dr. Hamilton, that hormone oxytocin we talked about above also lowers the levels of inflammation and free radicals in the blood stream. These are two of the baddies when it comes to aging - reducing them helps slow the aging process. (That's an even bigger incentive to me to practice kindness, given the rapid advance of *ahem* platinum in my hair...)
There is one catch to all this kindness stuff, however. (Right, you say, of course there's a catch. Go on then, let's hear it.)
Your act of kindness must be genuine.
Human beings are perceptive. A saccharine smile, a compliment delivered with even the tiniest slice of sarcasm, a good turn done in anticipation of receiving something in exchange - all result in a mega-fail. The object of your act of kindness builds a little wall around themselves, and you lose those lovely benefits.
Still don't believe kindness works? The proof is in the trying. Practice that smile in the mirror, go flash it around the supermarket, and watch the world start to change.
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