What is kindness? Why is it be important to teach it to our children ? Here a reflection on the benefits of kindness when we live it on a daily basis.
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What is kindness?
Let’s talk about kindness today, as it sometimes seems disappearing in our world, and yet I believe it is a very important virtue.
I’ll start with its definition : kindness defines a person
being friendly, generous, and considerate;
with a pleasant disposition, and concern and consideration for others.
(as taken from google and wikipedia )
To be clear in my remarks: I’m not talking about a fake kindness here. I do not refer to these codes of conduct that make us say yes while we think the opposite, this mask of which Thomas d’Ansembourg speaks in his deep and revolutionary “Being Genuine : Stop being nice, start being real”
(If you don’t know him, I really suggest you to watch his conference ) :
No. I insist with my children and want them to be “nice” in their gestures and words because it is, in my opinion, an exercise of empathy.
I consider a value the affection that we carry towards each other and towards ourselves, and which must be manifested through our daily actions and words.
When I think about kindness here, I think about respect. Respect for others as for ourselves. If I respect myself, I want to be treated with fair words and deeds; and if I respect others, I want to treat them with fair words and deeds.
When I think about kindness, I think about the love we feel when we are connected, able to make demands and express needs without accusing or judging.
Kindness .. What for?!
You’re maybe thinking, “It’s a bunch of really nice words, but that’s not our real life! When I do get angry, I don’t necessarily want to be nice, it wouldn’t work!”
Certainly. I’m not pretending to believe in a world where everybody only feels and expresses positive feelings (it would be called paradise wouldn’t it ?)
I’m talking about taking small, everyday steps towards mastering our own words and actions, by understanding their effects.
I can have an uncomfortable message or feeling to convey; the way I use it to communicate such message will probably change how it is received. The reaction to my message will be then different!
Kindness, every day.
Here’s a practical example: our partner didn’t do the dishes in our absence, whereas we had expected him to do it. We are angry.
When we say :
You never do the dishes! It’s always me who has to do everything!
we communicate differently than when we say :
I see that we still have to do the dishes. I’m really tired tonight, could you take care of it please?
(no irony or sarcasm please !)
Let’s put ourselves in the shoes of this partner who didn’t do the dishes, and listen to the 2 sentences. It’s not the same thing. While listening to the first, we will probably want to defend ourselves. “It’s not true!!” While in the second example, we can feel empathy towards our tired partner, and propose a solution.. “Don’t worry, I’m tired too, but tomorrow morning I’ll take care of it before going to work.”
(Warning! There, we must also accept that the dishes can remain dirty in the sink a whole night 😉 )
Let’s go back to the kids. When mine arrive in the kitchen late afternoon screaming :
MOOOM! MILK !
I get angry. I take it for a whim (ok, whims don’t exist, but you get the point!). In my head, an SOS alarm is ringing: children are not supposed to eat so close to dinner time! I am not their personal maid! And finally, I’m tired of all this yelling!
On the other hand, when they come all serious and tell me with their little voice :
Mom, I’m really hungry, can I have some milk please?
My stomach is gurgling. I’m hungry too .. I smile at the concerned expression of my little ones .. Come on, we’re all having a snack together!
Kindness and empathy
You will say that this is manipulation; to control our words / actions in order to receive a particular answer. So, it may be philosophical and pretentious; but to me, it’s the order of things that makes all the difference.
For example, in a relationship with another person, when I’m trying to establish a first contact, I start with a hello (= I recognize the other’s existence); then, I listen and observe this person without judgment. And because I’ve showed my kindness, I increase my chances that the other person also wants to enter in a relationship with me, listening to me and showing me his kindness.
So, you see, it’s not about pretending kindness in order to obtain something. It is living by the kindness within us, nourishing our actions. That’s what increases our well-being!
It’s true, I do believe that kindness is strictly connected to empathy and compassion.
Why? When we are truly kind, from our hearts, we put ourselves in the shoes of the other. We listen to our feelings, those of the other person, without judgment, to better connect to each other.
We are programmed to feel other people’s feelings from our birth! And that, thanks to our mirror neurons.
In an evolutionary vision, it makes sense. As babies, we feel good when our parent is close to us, and able to understand our needs. So we maintain our proximity, and not only are we fed, we also avoid going too far away putting ourselves in danger; which ensures our survival (also read the article on attachement). In terms of society, this allows us to learn much faster by imitating others, and above all, to create strong links between us : together we are stronger against the world’s dangers.
Let’s go back to the definition : a kind person is
friendly, generous, and considerate, with a pleasant disposition.
Pleasant. It feels good. To others as to ourselves.
Thus, when we receive or give help, a nice word, a hug.. our brain reacts by secreting neurochemical substances, such as oxytocin and serotonin, which have many benefits on our body (so much that a lack in serotonin , for example, seem to be related to depression).
As we saw when talking about the positive effects of cuddles, tenderness and warmth reduce the production of cortisol, the stress hormone. High levels of cortisol are very dangerous for the brains of babies and children, but can also have consequences for the health of adults..
Complaining against kindness?
I may be old-fashioned, but I really expect to be told Hello, Please, Thanks, Goodbye. And that my children learn it, too. I really need to ask myself then.. what about me? Am I a kind person?
Truth be told, I started listening to myself talking after I’d heard this talk from Christine Lewicki (it’s in French, but you can add English subtitles in the settings) :
The title is the same as her book, “I quit complaining” which will be published in its English version next fall.
At first I thought it did not apply to me much. I am a nice person, I don’t complain that much… But then, I started to really pay attention. To my words and tone of voice.. I do complain, I groan, I make judgments .. not the best model of kindness after all!
It was a revelation. How can I teach my children to be kind, if I yell at them as soon as I get angry?
If the children argue with each other, and one starts shouting, banging or taking a toy from the other’s hands, I suggest that they stop and talk to each other. How can I be heard if I shout too, if I don’t pay attention to my children’s needs and connect with them?
Time .. Take your time .. Because the path is long, let’s make it pleasant!
Kindness, a dying virtue of old times?
To conclude, I ‘ll go so far as to say that kindness will save the world. Because it will bring us closer to each other. We will smile instead of crying. Kindness will give us peace, in us and outside us. I firmly believe it, and therefore children, you must tell me please and thank you every time 😉
But above all, I must say it, too. Thank you. How are you? Looking at you in the eyes and really listening to your answer with my heart.
Let’s dare acting with real kindness in our daily life. Dare to live our kindness.
What do you think? What are your thoughts about kindness in our current society? And if you agree with this post, then spread the word ! Share it!