There is a worker I see every morning on my way home after dropping my children to school. His job is to stop the traffic when a construction truck is backing up. You can imagine the impatient honks and unpleasant gestures he receives on a daily basis.
I try and add a little ray of sunshine to his day by smiling at him every time I pass him by. I know I make a difference to his world because he looks out for me at 7:40 am and stands just that little bit taller as he waves back to me.
It’s magical how a gesture so small can have multiple rebound effects. Perhaps others on the road notice and feel elevated in some way. Perhaps the worker feels just that little bit more able to face the hardships of his life. I certainly find myself smiling for much of the way back home, and more gentle for at least a few hours.
Imagine what more frequent acts of kindness would do to our lives.
Kindness is not simply a virtue that we were taught by our parents and grandparents. Increasingly, we’re learning that a little bit of compassion goes a long way not only in ensuring better health, greater happiness and more resilience, it has strong implications for the very survival of our species.
We live in an interconnected world where billions of us are learning to live together, sharing depleting resources, and rising to the challenges of our times. Our diversity can be our greatest strength if we learn to relate to each other with kindness because interpersonal neurobiology shows that the strength of a system lies in the linkage of differentiated parts.
And yet it’s not always easy to bring compassion into daily life. We’re busy, we’re stressed, and we’re trying to understand each other in a way we’ve never had to before. Here then are 5 strategies that can help turn kindness into a habit.
One a Day
Cultivate the habit of making one kind gesture a day. It could be helping someone in need, being gentle with the stray cat out on the street, or refraining from yet another purchase that adds to our ecological footprint. Compassion knows no bounds.
We live most of our lives on autopilot. Taking regular breaks to simply breathe in calm and compassion, and reflect on whether we’re being compassionate beings helps us live tread the world in a kinder way.
In a world that increasingly worships perfection, we’ve become intolerant of imperfections – our own and those of others. And yet, it is in embracing flaws and failures that we get to see the full picture and nurture the compassion muscle.
Technology is depriving us of the benefits that come from face to face connection with others. Engaging real people and entering their worlds with empathy is what helps us become kinder and more compassionate people.
Be Kind to Yourself
Kindness to others flows from a fountain where we are at the epicentre. When we deprive ourselves of our own understanding, any kindness that we do extend to others is short-lived and often masked in fear and low self-worth.
Compassion is no longer a choice. Given the challenges we face at a global level, our survival lies in cultivating it as best we can. There is no more important work for each one of us.