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The Astonishing Power of Kindness

Try this single act to transform hate into harmony.

Key points

  • Kindness has ripple effects and can breed benevolence.
  • Research shows that generous acts can result in dramatic health benefits.
  • The butterfly effect of kindness demonstrates how a single act can have dramatic consequences.

“My religion is kindness.” –The Dalai Lama

We live at a time when families and neighbors have become polarized by dueling political views. Misinformation cements the chasm that divides us. The pandemic refuses to abate, leaving illness, death, and budding variants in its wake. An astounding 838 organized hate groups operate nationwide and use social media as their amplifiers.

In the context of such rabid dissension, what can a single person do to foster harmony, compassion, and joy? How does one live with this turmoil as a backdrop yet remain healthy and happy?

Here’s a proven recipe: Contribute a single act of kindness.

When I reflect on the transformative nature of kindness, this immediately comes to mind.

Years ago, when I was newly single and trying to create out of whole cloth a complicated Christmas season, I attempted to decorate a 10-foot tree in a valiant effort to convey to my children that despite the newly altered state of our family, life must go on. It was my hope that the holiday lights, garland, and bulbs would shore up our spirits.

The adorned tree was beautiful … briefly. In the wee hours of the morning, the alarm system alerted us of trouble. Our not-so-little tree had lost its balance and crashed to the floor smashing my family’s treasured ornaments, along with the gilded angel that had graced our treetop for three decades.

Yes, it was only a tree, but I cried. I saw the fallen tree and the shards of glass and glitter littering the floor as a metaphor for my broken marriage. I viewed it as emblematic of the many losses we had experienced that year.

Unduly distraught, I arrived home from work that day to find two heroes in my living room. There, perched high on a ladder wiring the fallen tree to the wall was Brendon Cox, a contractor who was working on home repairs, while his assistant Dave was perched on a chair, delicately trying to glue tiny fragments of the angel's face back into place. These two men intuitively understood the fallen tree represented something much greater, and they wanted to ameliorate my sadness by surprising me and restoring it.

 Gina Vild
A kindness that resonates throughout the years.
Source: Gina Vild

My eyes filled with tears for a second time that day, but this time tears of joy. These two generous men could have been grouting tile or relaxing at home, but there they were, wire and superglue in hand, in a magnificent act of kindness.

This sweet memory has resonated throughout the years, reminding me of how compassion can transform despair and resurrect hope. Kindness is a powerful and life-changing force.

The ripple effect of kindness

There’s an interesting theory called the butterfly effect. It describes how the flap of a butterfly’s wing can lead to a cyclone in another part of the world. It is a mathematical construct that explains how small changes can have large consequences.

So it is with kindness. A single, simple kind act can have enormous consequences.

Studies show how kind acts radiate goodwill by incentivizing the benefactor to, in turn, generate kind acts. For example, a study in Science Daily showed that goodwill is contagious and that thoughtful acts have a domino effect. One person’s generosity will spread to three people. Those three people will each pay forward the kind act to three others, benefiting nine in all. Those nine will continue to multiply the kindness. This leads to a ripple effect and subsequent waves of kindness. It is not hard to see how a single act contributes to a kinder, gentler world.

No act is too small.

  • When at a restaurant, ask for the name of your server. Write “thank you” using the person’s name when you leave a tip.
  • Surprise someone who appears stressed and let them in front of you in the grocery or pharmacy line.
  • When you have waited for an interminable amount of time to reach a customer call center only to find the representative unhelpful or curt, ask for the person’s name and say, “You must be really busy today. Thank you for taking the time to help me with this.”
  • Remember compliments are free, and true compliments shine a bright light onto others. Use them with abundance.
  • Surprise someone by sending a favorite book, poem, or small gift through the mail.
  • Bring flowers to an elderly neighbor.
  • Send a hand-written note of appreciation to someone who makes your life better.

Kindness begins by remembering we all struggle

It’s especially important to remember the powerful nature of kindness when someone’s aggressive or thoughtless action threatens to upend your day. Kindness begins with the understanding that we all struggle. So, whether you are navigating a personal slight—a curt customer service rep, a driver cutting you off in traffic, or unexpected sarcasm from an associate—rather than lashing out in response, remember this simple truth. It can be life-changing: Be kind, and remember everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.

We can never know what hardship those we encounter are experiencing—marital woes, a cancer diagnosis, a sick child, a financial setback. But what we can know with certainty is that any generous, forgiving act on our part will be met with gratitude and understanding, and our kind response to someone’s thoughtless act can transform that person’s day.

The boomerang effect

And there’s this surprising benefit—kindness boomerangs. Studies have found that your kind acts can make you healthier.

Here’s how it works: Good deeds produce oxytocin, commonly known as the love hormone. Oxytocin has significant and long-term benefits, as David Hamilton reports in his book The Five Side Effects of Kindness. Oxytocin protects the cardiovascular system, serves as an antioxidant eliminating free radical damage, and reduces systemic inflammation. Studies show that oxytocin also speeds wound healing, may slow the aging process, and is a mood elevator.

These findings are bolstered by a study published by the NIH National Library of Medicine that examined kind acts performed over seven consecutive days. The findings show that the initiator of the kind acts reports increased happiness. It further found that the happiness was boosted regardless of whether the benefactors were strangers, friends, or acquaintances. What mattered was only that they infused the world with good thoughts and good deeds.

Happy people are those who do for others

In summary, random acts of kindness, goodwill toward others, and generous deeds can lead to your being both healthier and happier. As Booker T. Washington said, “Those who are happiest are those who do the most for others.”

It has been six years since my Christmas tree fell. Yet I recall with great joy how my sadness was transformed into joy by two men who understood that the most important thing we can do in life is to let others know they are not alone. Their gift transformed my mishap into a blaze of loving-kindness that has resonated throughout the years.

Yes, it is the worst of times, but it is also the best of times, as they say.

Juxtaposed with the strife we're experiencing, scientists have worked tirelessly to give us access to lifesaving vaccines that are reliably combating a menacing disease. Corporations and individuals have stepped up and increased their charitable giving to those in need. When a record-breaking storm wreaked havoc in Texas earlier this year, strangers pitched in delivering generators, opening their homes, and delivering food. Shelters have been emptied as dogs and cats have been given loving homes.

So, during this season of light, go forth by remembering that, as Thich Nhat Hanh said, “Compassion is a verb.”

References

Southern Poverty Law Center report on organized hate groups

Science of spreading generosity https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/03/100308151049.htm

David Hamilton: The Five Side Effects of Kindness

https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/the-heart-and-science-of-kindness-2…

https://www.cnn.com/2021/02/18/us/neighbors-helping-texas-winter-storm-…

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