Although I have written about it before, the concept of kindness has been popping up around me in the past few days. I was introduced to a quote from Kurt Vonnegut's book, God Bless You, Mr Rosewater. "There's only one rule that I know of, babies, God damn it, you've got to be kind." And there is a quote (attributed to various people) going around social media, "Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle."
Being kind is one of those concepts which could sound anodyne, a bit like "nice". But kindness in action is a powerful thing, for both the receiver and giver.
Many years ago, when I was very young and easily influenced, I started work in an office. On the first day, several people warned me about another member of staff. She was, they said, moody, abrupt, humourless, rude and aloof. And this seemed to be true because although I didn't have much direct contact with her, I could see she was like that with everyone. I was very intimidated - I was used to people being friendly - and being immature, when I did have to work with her, I would be abrupt first, as a defence mechanism. True to form, she was rude and snappy with me.
After a few times, and knowing I was going to have to be in a meeting with her the next day, I was feeling very anxious. Abrupt wasn't my default mode and it was very uncomfortable for me. I started thinking about how I had taken other peoples' word about her character as truth, before I had made my own decision. What would happen, I thought, if I approached her in a new way - being respectful and, yes, kind?
Initially, it didn't make much of a difference, but I persevered. Over time, her attitude towards me softened. Gradually we became, if not exactly friends, at least warm acquaintances. I treated her with kindness and surprise, surprise, she treated me the same. (She even became less frosty with other people in the office, although they were still too attached to their opinions of her to really loosen up.)
In time, she made passing mentions of a seriously ill husband and of her own tentative health. But you know what? Those hidden hard battles shouldn't matter.
We should be kind to each other just because we can.
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