In September last year, Jacinda Ardern, the young and dynamic Prime Minister of New Zealand, stood before an almost-empty United Nations General Assembly hall and called for a new kind of leadership. Specifically, one centred on kindness.
Last month, in the wake of the tragic Christchurch mosque shootings, Ms Ardern made headlines around the world for personifying the kind and empathetic leadership she had publicly touted. Two weeks later, a viral social media post highlighted the depths to which this compassionate leader embraced her ethos — revealing that she had quietly paid for the groceries of a beleaguered mother who, on a trip to the supermarket with two screaming toddlers, had forgotten to bring her wallet.
In a modern world that applauds aggressiveness and enables ruthlessness, it has become common to regard kindness as unnecessary, inhibiting or — worse still — a debilitating weakness. However, as we progress deeper into the 21st century and outgrow the paradigms of old, perhaps one of the most important things we can do is acknowledge that kindness is a powerful and desirable leadership trait — both in ourselves, and in others. Perhaps it’s time to actively recognize the benefits that arise from being more benevolent, compassionate and kind. For instance:
Kindness is desirable. In an NBC survey, it was revealed that 70% of employees would forgo a generous raise for a kinder boss. Other studies show that lovers prefer kindness over intelligence in their partners, and both teachers and parents would overwhelmingly prefer children to exhibit kindness rather than achieve good grades.
Kindness is what our children crave. If given the power to change one thing about the world, more than half of all children partaking in a recent State of the Kid survey indicated they would make the world a kinder place.
Kindness is therapeutic and uplifting. Numerous scientific studies have confirmed that engaging in acts of kindness is one of the most significant ways to improve your own well-being and life satisfaction. In fact, kindness is so powerful, a single instance can enhance the mood of the giver, the receiver and anyone witnessing the act.
Kindness is contagious. Numerous studies show that a single act of kindness can create ripples of goodness, spreading through our social circles and communities.
Of course, the most extraordinary thing about kindness is that it’s free and it’s available to us all. All we need to do to amplify the good stuff is to consciously and carefully strive for more:
Throughout the day, practice being more aware of others around you. Lift your eyes from your phone, draw your thoughts back to the present moment and become aware of the people around you. What are they doing? What are they trying to accomplish? Is there something you can do to make their life a little easier in that moment?
A kind world is so much more obtainable when we each learn to step out of our personal bubble. Follow impulses to smile at strangers; offer to carry heavy bags; pay for the coffee order behind you. Kindness is most effective when it is unexpected, so actively look for ways to delightfully surprise people you know, and people you don’t.
There are seven billion life stories on this planet that don’t resemble your own. Understanding this can help you embrace kindness in otherwise tense situations. Make one of your daily mantras ‘what’s their story?’. A waiter makes a minor mistake on your order; what’s going on in their life that made them forget? A driver is wildly cutting through traffic; what stresses are they under to be in such a hurry?
By applying empathy, we allow ourselves a greater opportunity to choose more constructive reactions. We may need to correct a wrong, but we can do so kindly. We may need to set boundaries or assert our position, but we can use gentle words. We may even find, in a moment of kind empathy, that we can forgive a transgression completely and move on without a word being said.
Kindness is a universal quality, and its effects need not be limited to the human race. If you are feeling a little jaded with humanity or are looking to amplify goodness in other ways, there are a multitude of kindnesses that you can extend to the animals around us, and the planet we live on. Install a bird feeder in your front yard; leave water out for wildlife on hot sunny days; foster a homeless pet; plant a tree or decline plastic bags at your supermarket. Look for ways to be kind to the environment, and the creatures who share this Earth with us.
Kindness is not a flaw, nor a weakness. It is a vital human characteristic and studies show most of us are yearning for it in our lives and in our communities. So, let’s all appreciate the potency we each possess, make kindness a priority and set this kick-ass superpower free on the world.
Kim Forrester is a mother, nature lover, global traveller, holistic wellbeing advocate and kindness enthusiast. As an award-winning author, educator and consultant, she combines cutting edge science with spiritual philosophy to inspire holistic wellbeing and fullness of living. Check out Kim’s podcast,Eudaemonia, to learn more about how to flourish in life.
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