Recently the BBC sponsored a research project on the subject of kindness. The need for the research in their view is based on the fact that relatively few scholars have been investigating the subject. Furthermore, they felt that there was room to grow our knowledge on the subject.
Claudia Hammond who leads the research on behalf of the BBC writes that we already know the benefits of being kind. Which is that you feel better about yourself after an act of kindness. Furthermore, she goes on to say that being kind reduces our anxiety levels. And lastly, that kindness is contagious, and then she added that even toddlers can be kind. She then stated that there is much that we don’t know yet. She then lists the following questions: What are the most common acts of kindness; where do people most often experience kindness; how is kindness viewed at work; and what prevents us from being kind.
The theory behind it
I must say I was perplexed about the choice of questions being asked about what we do not know. It’s as if in our modern society we have unlearned centuries of wisdom and pretend to be on the cutting edge of science. When we ask naïve questions that have been addressed in millions of writings and books since the dawn of mankind. Several of which have of course been written by Etsko.
To address Claudia’s last question, firstly, we know exactly what prevents us from being kind. It is called selfishness. And if you point that out to a selfish person you are no nearer to changing that person’s willingness to be kind as a fisherman would be nearer to catching a fish when explaining to that fish that he should be taking the bait.
Let’s for a moment consider what kindness is. You could approach it as they did in the study above. By giving people a little money and asking them to spend it on other people so that they can experience the psychological benefits it brings. The deep theory it rests on is that we humans only do something if we feel better afterwards. So, if you want to persuade someone to be kind let them experience those effects and they will be hooked. I feel a bit offended by that, to be honest, because we are certainly not a bunch of circus animals jumping through hoops simply because we are going to be fed something nice afterward.
Generosity VS Kindness
In Etsko’s words, they base their kindness motivation on the assumption that we are only generous, that we only give something, if we are going to get something in return. You buy their kindness with some type of reward and clearly, that does not fit the definition of “generosity”. Being generous means that you give without expecting anything in return. That you give because you have something to give. That you give unconditionally.
This is where the key to kindness and its underlying concept of generosity lies. If you can figure out that generosity means being prepared to give without expecting anything in return, not even a thank you or a feeling of wellbeing or whatever, you are knocking on the door of understanding what it is all about.
The importance of Perspective
Why do we care about our fellow human beings? Why would we want to care about someone else if we are feeling ill? Or have recently lost a lot of money or have recently suffered some sort of hardship? The key to this, in fact, the key to being human, is that we have this extraordinary ability to figure out that we have a lot to be thankful for. And that is, even after suffering this long list of negative events. For example, if you suffer a heart attack and you get taken to a state-of-the-art hospital for treatment, at least you have that to be thankful for. If you are struggling to recover and many colleagues and friends wish you well, at least you get to experience the love of your friends and family. Wherever you suffer you can also find something to be thankful for, without exception.
Being thankful gives us perspective. Perspective means that we stand far enough from our troubles to also notice the wonderful things in our lives. That is to say, that we notice we have something to give instead of only noticing what is being taken from us. Maintaining that perspective should be the thing we work on every day. Because if we do that it would enable us to be generous, and therefore to be kind.
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Andries Nieuwoudt is a senior leadership excellence consultant who has been part of the Schuitema consulting team since 2016. His approach to leadership coaching is typically practical and hands-on, having been honed through years of experience in managerial roles.
Andries’s experience includes working as HR Manager and Executive in the refinery and smelting industry for more than 20 years before joining Schuitema. Andries was HR Manager at Anglo Platinum’s Rustenburg Base Metal Refinery for 10 years before he moved to Anglo Platinum Head Office as Programme Manager to manage a group wide restructuring, working with Bain Consulting to implement new Blue Print Structures at all Anglo Platinum Operations. Thereafter he joined Samancor Chrome as HR Head for their Tubatse Chrome Smelter in Steelpoort for 10 years.