When in Doubt, Choose Kindness

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Last weekend saw the union of Meghan Markle & Prince Harry. 

A traditional royal wedding with lots of fanfare and ceremony – royal for sure, but definitely not traditional.

I’m not a royalist by any stretch, but the sight of the official wedding photos of both families standing together made me smile with joy. 

It was a signal of a hopeful future; the words of love, compassion and kindness from Bishop Curry still resonating.

Our mission at Mavericks Unlimited is to help create a world that works.  This will happen not just by how we work and perform individually, but also through how we support and look after each other as humans.

“Be kind, be useful, be fearless”

Those powerful words above were the outgoing ones of President Obama when speaking to the White House interns in his final days of office.

His chosen wisdoms for the future generations were not about performance, they were about character.

He did not say “be the best”, or “be the biggest” or “outsmart your competition”.

He said be kind and be useful.  He said be fearless.

In essence, the President said be of service to others first and be courageous about it.  Wise words indeed.

Choosing kindness

I recently watched a film (of the book) called Wonder with my 8 year old daughter.  Though it’s pitched as a family storyline, I think us grown-ups can all learn something from its messages about human behaviour.

The most powerful narrative for me was around kindness – in particular, the immense power it holds when giving it and receiving it, but also if we choose to withhold it in a situation where it would help.

I’ve been misquoting a line from it with my kids …. “when in doubt, be kind” (it’s actually “when given the choice between being right and being kind, choose kind.")

Both are good, but I prefer my version, so I’m going to keep misquoting. 

“When in doubt, be kind”

It’s simple enough for a child to understand.  When faced with any uncertainty about a situation, say for example if they witness playground teasing and are not sure if they should join in or not, be kind.

Kindness means seeing with open eyes.  It means recognising impact on others and it means courageously standing up for what’s right.

This has gotten me to thinking about the importance of choosing to be kind as adults.  If kids can do it, then we must do it too. 

The pressure to be faster, fitter, stronger, leaner….x10

The world moves at a ridiculous speed – we work long hours, we have family and social commitments, we’re bombarded with digital content 24/7. 

There is a constant pressure to look, act and behave in a certain way, particularly from the media and a sweeping tide of conservatism in society.

We see injustices and inequalities every day in the world.

If we took Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution to heart, we would focus all our energy on the single-minded pursuit of survival in these complex times. 

What’s the cost of individualism?

The potential cost is huge, particularly the impact on our decisions around kindness, compassion and empathy.

As a former corporate human resources chief, I saw my fair share of moments where kindness was absent where it should have been present. 

And to be honest, I’m far from perfect myself.  When I get stressed or have too much on, I can sometimes have a short fuse (just ask my Mavericks partners!).  I might not choose to be kind in the moment, but in reflection, I know I should have been.  That said, I do try to be kind whenever I consciously can. 

So, how do we all get conscious to it all the time? How do we create the self-awareness to bring kindness and compassion to every interaction?

Here are 5 things you can do to bring kindness:

1)    Open your eyes

This might seem odd as our eyes are always open, but it’s a metaphor for being present to others.  It means noticing when people are suffering or in need, especially if they don’t vocalise it. 

2)    Be empathetic

Try to understand people from their perspective.  Recognise that sometimes, even if you’re feeling angry or frustrated with somebody, that they may be going through things in their life.  You can’t control that, however you can control your ability to behave differently if you consider their circumstances.

3)    Bring generosity

Give up your seat, hold open a door, give a genuine compliment, make someone a cup of tea, offer support, give praise, be gracious…I read a lovely statement once “kindness begins as a thought and ends as an action”.   Small acts can have massive ripples in the world.

4)    Pause when you feel you might be unkind

Notice if you’re feeling the urge to withhold kindness or be unkind – e.g. if someone barged into you on your commute or maybe if someone at work has given some critical feedback you disagree with – your instant reaction is unlikely to be kindness.

However, take a breath & step away - see if your perspective changes.  If it’s too late and you’ve been unkind, use these other four recommendations to help address it.

5)    Be in service to others

Your acts of kindness can potentially lift someone up when they expect it least.  Kindness is gifted, rather than sought, so you can have a powerful and generous impact on other people. 

If you need some inspiration on how to do this, check out the excellent ‘Random Acts of Kindness’ organisation and I also wrote a post on my personal inspiration around kindness a little while ago.

Kindness as a way of being gives you access to reducing your stress, being lighter in life and helps you be more present.  Being kind is like a muscle, it will grow the more it is used.

I’ll leave you with another quote from Wonder:

“We carry with us, as human beings, not just the capacity to be kind, but the very choice of kindness.”

Wherever you are in the world, at work, school, home or just out and about, do me a favour and choose kindness.