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What’s Your KQ (Kindness Quotient)?

A kindness movement appears to be afoot.

Key points

  • Kindness appears to be gaining social currency.
  • Research shows that kindness is linked to happiness.
  • People should try to cultivate kindness because of its benefits to oneself and others.

In American society, we have traditionally tended to evaluate people on a variety of rather superficial measures, notably attractiveness, successfulness, and wealth. Beauty, power, and money, more often than not, have determined how popular or famous one is, as it is such external or quantifiable attributes that have carried the most cultural currency.

Typically overlooked in judging the relative worth of an individual has been their ability to express concern about and for others. This is understandable, as it is much more difficult to assess the inner qualities of a person than his or her outer ones. Even first impressions can be misleading, we all know, as it can take a long time to really get to know someone.

Happily, however, I sense a sea change in terms of the qualities we consider important when gauging the merit of an individual. I believe looks, titles, and the size of one’s bank account are in descent, while internal capacities such as empathy and compassion are rising in value. Needless to say, this is a very good thing, a result in part of the pandemic making us more aware of the fact that we are all connected and part of the global community. We’ve reset our priorities and are more committed to things that really matter, an ideal foundation for positive humanistic values to thrive.

A rise in kindness

From my perspective, the value of kindness has most dramatically surfed this wave. Even before COVID-19, kindness began to emerge as a highly desirable trait for someone to possess and display. “Be Kind” t-shirts became fashionable, and “kindness campaigns” were launched at many schools. (At my daughter’s school, kids were asked to anonymously report random acts of kindness, with those receiving the most entries awarded a prize.)

Kindness (much like love and happiness a few years ago) seems to be everywhere these days. A good number of companies have adopted kindness in their mission statements or are featuring the word in their advertising, embedding the value within consumer culture. It’s also popping up on the local level. In Willcox, Arizona, for example, there is currently a 12.5-acre corn maze dedicated to kindness, the center of which reads “Be Kind.” Given its ubiquity, one might go as far as to say that a kindness movement is afoot, a truly sanguine development should that be the case.

Why has kindness become cool?

The definition of kindness—the quality of friendliness, generosity, and consideration—does not do it justice. Like its altruistic siblings, empathy and compassion, kindness relies on putting oneself in another person’s shoes, making it a demonstration of selflessness. More than that, however, an act of kindness is an effort to somehow improve the life of another individual, which for me represents a prime example of humanity at its best. Whether it’s something small, like holding the door for a stranger, or something big, like donating a kidney, kindness serves as a reminder that we are indelibly bound together as a species.

Best of all, perhaps, being kind is linked to being happy. In her research, Sonya Lyubomirsky, a University of California-Riverside psychologist, found that practicing acts of kindness (as well as expressing thankfulness, gratitude, and forgiveness) was common among happy people. Kindness seems to have a rebound effect, creating an endless loop of positivity or, as another popular t-shirt of the day reads, “good vibes only.” Extending that logic, it appears that adopting a philosophy of and approach to life simply around being kind can be a powerful source of joy for oneself and others, an important concept that can potentially benefit the lives of many.

Given all this, perhaps it’s time we retire or demote the concept of IQ, which still plays an important role in work and educational settings. Rather than measure one’s Intelligence Quotient to help determine who should get promoted or placed into gifted programs, in other words, maybe we should assign more weight to an individual’s KQ or Kindness Quotient. It is values like kindness, empathy, and compassion that present the greater opportunity to make the world a better place, I believe, and we should do whatever we can to help cultivate them.

More from Lawrence R. Samuel Ph.D.
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