Many people dismiss kindness as a meek, or even weak, thing that is inconsequential. After all, what
difference does it really make to smile at the bank teller or hold the door open for the person behind you?
Since most people nowadays expect to see results instantaneously, many people dismiss acts of kindness because they see no results of their actions. With everyone out for his or her own self, many think, "why try?"
The answer is twofold. First, kindness is not just for the other person. Two different studies, at UC Berkeley and the University of British Columbia, have shown that when we're kind, we're happier, and that when we're happier, we have a greater capacity to be kind. So if we want to be happy, one way to do it is to live a lifestyle of kindness. Second, kindness can literally change people and circumstances.
In case you think that this second point is outlandish, consider the hidden power of kindness, which is that it chips away at the social isolation from which societal ills emanate. Think about the gut wrenching issues of domestic violence, child abuse, homelessness, suicide, child sex trafficking, and all the rest. Each one of these tragedies is heartbreaking for the people who are touched by these issues. For others, the issues seem so overwhelming and immovable that it's easier to just shake their heads and say, "that's a shame," and go on about their lives.
But there is something that each of of us can do to get at the root of all of these issues. Since we know that social isolation is at the root of so much pain, we can get at each of these heartbreaks by chipping away at social isolation. How? By including people in our lives.
Instead of closing ourselves off from "new" people, we can invite others to join us in whatever we're doing. We can call, send cards, or connect with others in whatever way is natural for us. We don't need a degree in social work in order to be friendly to others. We do, however, need to know how to be kind to people who cannot or will not reciprocate.
The people who may be spiraling down toward tragedy are the "porcupines" among us who are too broken, wounded, or ill to return our kindness. When we reach these people through acts of unconditional kindness, we are putting to work the secret meaning of kindness, which is dignity.
When we give dignity to someone who behaves like a jerk, we can literally change the trajectory of that person's life. The key here is to expect nothing in return for our kindness.
When we can be kind to people who don't "deserve" our kindness, that's when the power of kindness goes to work to change the heart of the recipient. When broken people receive undeserved dignity, when they're invited and included, and cared about, they begin to change, and as a consequence, their (and our) world's begin to change.
We have the power to measurably improve the world around us through kindness.