I regularly see posts online, as I know you do, showing acts of kindness, or stories of people just being lovely to each other and they are usually accompanied by comments of how this restores one’s faith in human nature. But I’d like to think that being nice or kind is more common than these posts might make you think.
Indeed I think I’ve worked out why its so good to be kind, and ironically I think it’s completely selfish. Being kind to someone makes you feel good. It’s as simple as that. And the opposite is also true. Being unkind makes us feel bad.
I have had a couple of experiences lately that have hi-lighted to me how uncomfortable it feels not to be kind. Be prepared, these do not reflect well on me!
Moving into a new area recently I found that walking down the small high street on a regular basis brought me into the close vicinity of a young Eastern European woman selling The Big Issue. I have no idea why but I didn’t feel kindly towards this young woman. She sat in a folding chair right in the middle of the pavement and maybe this ‘in your face’ approach was what made me feel uncomfortable. I guess I thought she was trying to ambush me.
For several sorry weeks I tried to avoid this girl. I walked past avoiding eye contact or even more embarrassingly crossed to the other side of the road. Very soon it started to become a ‘thing’ and then thankfully quite quickly I realised that being ‘unkind’ was making me feel bad. So the next time I encountered this young woman, sitting in her folding chair taking up most of the pavement, huddled under her blankets, I stopped and bought a copy of the Big Issue. I gave her a fiver – obviously trying to assuage my guilt a little. She smiled sweetly and said ‘God bless you madam.’ I felt great, my pleasure derived from this small act of kindness being completely out of all proportion to what I had done. Which after all would not have made it onto one of those online videos showing the kindness and heroism of other folks. The feeling I had as I walked away with my blessing however was worth more than a fiver!
But how quickly these lessons can be forgotten. My halo slips again! This time I was sitting outside a small cafe in a little village in Italy chatting with a friend over a mid-morning cappuccino.
I was suddenly aware that someone was hovering over our table and speaking quite quietly – but obviously to us. This lady was selling small items, socks, belts etc. My initial reaction was a slight annoyance at this interruption to our conversation. We ignored her and continued our chatter. But almost immediately I realised how uncomfortable I felt being so rude to this lady. I stopped chatting to my friend and began to engage with this lady instead. She told me she was from Nigeria and that she had been attacked with acid when she ran a shop there and had come to Italy to receive treatment for her acid burns. Her face was disfigured by the scars. She spoke softly of her desire to return to Nigeria but how it was too expensive. I bought a couple of items from her bag and again paid over the odds. Seeing how genuinely moved she was by my small act of kindness was again reward itself. She also sent me God’s blessings. I can only hope God is listening.
So now being ‘kind’ is becoming something I seek out because I know I will feel great. I remind myself to look shop assistants and waiters in the eye, smile and thank them when they serve me. A guy bumped my car when he was parking the other day. He didn’t do any damage but I could see he was a bit taken aback when I didn’t react in a hostile manner. I simply smiled and said no harm had been done. It’s becoming a bit of a game – disarming people with kindness.
As I returned to a car park last week a young homeless man sitting by a wall asked me if I had any change. I stopped and smiled at him and opened my purse and as I was about to fish out some coins I had the thought to give him a ten pound note instead. His face was so sweet and his eyes sparkled with delight as he again gave me God’s blessings. I sent them back to him too. I suspect he was an angel in disguise – you should have seen that face and those eyes.
These are tiny acts of kindness and would not make it into any headlines but they demonstrate very clearly to me that being kind makes us feel good. Whereas avoiding the opportunities to be kind actually makes us feel uncomfortable. So I think we are programmed to be kind and helpful to others – it produces its own reward, not to speak of all those blessings that get showered on you.
‘What would love do’ has become a new mantra for me. I’ve realised by taking the route of love can only bring happiness to all concerned.
I could do a lot more I know, but I’m happy I’ve made a start and delighted to find the benefits of kindness. Admittedly I haven’t saved a dog from a tsunami or given a homeless child my coat but I’d like to think I’d be up for it if need be and I’m sure you would too.