What Kindness Means to Me

Today, my friend and colleague, Amy Haworth, shares what kindness means to her. As a mother and mentor, professional and philosopher, she braves the unknown with her curiosity and the hunger to learn. And by day she leads organizational readiness at a multi-billion dollar software company…a team dedicated to enable its company to adapt and grow to the constant change required to keep the engine of its massive business humming. Enjoy…

“Everyone just wants to be happy.” Look around. All those people, all those faces, all those stories. How different would we be if every time we saw a person, we told ourselves, “At their core, he or she (like me) just wants to be happy?”

Kindness is a funny thing. What I mean is…watch what happens to the other person when you are kind. Kindness creates an automatic reaction of indebtedness. And, that’s what I mean by ‘kindness is a funny thing.’ Why must we feel a need to reciprocate? Do we not feel worthy of another’s kindness? Or, do we feel embarrassed that we had a need someone noticed and filled? Think about the last time someone bought you a cup of coffee. What was your reaction? Perhaps the ultimate kindness is to let someone else be kind to us.

Yet, here I am assuming we all define kindness in a similar way. For clarity, let me say that I define it as doing something unexpectedly unselfish as a result of living with a spirit of grace. Let’s dig into that…

Unexpectedly unselfish: A few weeks before the holidays, I stopped by the Dollar Store for some wrapping paper. The lines were long and people were in the holiday rush. At the busy checkout line, the customer in front of me paid with cash and insisted on digging for 26 cents. My first unkind thought was:

“You’ve got to be kidding me, lady. Just give the clerk a dollar and move on.”

When she failed to find the 26 cents, I felt the weight of dimes and quarters in the wallet I was holding and quickly delivered 26 cents to the clerk. The customer was so appreciative, awkwardly expressed a wish to somehow give to me, and moved on. I felt slightly embarrassed. My donation attracted too much attention, and her gratitude was much more than a measly 26 cents deserved. However, I was buoyed by the joy of helping another human being. That’s the magic of it, you see. We work so hard to “find purpose,” “make an impact,” and “change the world.” When really, we may be focusing on the wrong things. Being mindful of the micro moments, we will find that we don’t need to start a non-profit. An act of service, an encouraging word, and extra time to listen may be our purpose, our impact, and our change in the world.

Living with a spirit of grace: I am a spiritual person. I believe we walk in the influence of the divine. I’ve found an expression for those beliefs through western religious traditions, yet there is more beyond what our human understanding can explain. One of the fundamental beliefs of my spiritual path is that we have been given “grace:” that the divine freely gives us more than we deserve and that there isn’t a way to earn it. With thanks for that grace, I strive to give it to others. I am imperfect. So is everyone else. If we gave grace to others, and ourselves we’d see how easy it is to let go of judgment, anger, and the differences between us…free and unmerited favor. We all just want to be happy.

My most recent realization about life and kindness is that we’re all only one introduction away from being friends. An unexpected deed for a stranger (keeping an eye on his shopping cart while he grabs a forgotten item at the grocery store) would be expected if we’d been introduced at a friend’s party the evening before. So, instead of showing kindness to strangers, I’ve begun to act like all these strangers are acquaintances. I say ‘hi’ as if we’ve met, act polite as if we’ll see each other again, and strike up conversation as if it’s not the first chat we’ve had. Breaking social norms can be a little uncomfortable at first, but if we all started doing it, I guarantee we’d generate energy of kindness. A spirit, if you will. Energy like this would surely have power to repel selfishness, disconnection and loneliness.

We are all in this together. And, we might as well be happy.