Many people from older generations were taught the mantra, “Help other people, but don’t expect anything in return.” Today we call it doing acts of kindness for other people. Acts of kindness may be the glue that allows us to maintain our sanity in these difficult times and change how we interact in our communities. Acts of kindness are related to social capital, which is basically building positive social and cultural relationships to help people "get by."
Examples of social capital include opening a door for someone, returning a lost item to a stranger, giving someone directions and providing an unsolicited compliment. In general, beneficial interactions between people, even if they don't know each other or necessarily like each other, are included.
Even with our families, who we know and love, acts of kindness don’t automatically appear. It takes a deliberate choice by us to be kind. Here are some tried and true ideas for how to be kind with those special people in our families. Acts of kindness are sometimes like chain letters. One act of kindness may be multiplied to manifold acts of kindnesses.
Specifically, one might try some of the following. Surprise your parents or grandparents with an unexpected visit (socially distanced) or phone call. Show empathy and kindness in the form of a big hug (virtual if needed), listening, or kind words (I love you). Write and mail a card or letter to a relative and tell them at least one thing you appreciate about them (Yes, snail mail). Help with a household chore. Invite them to go somewhere with you even if it is just a ride to the grocery store or hardware. Buy your grandchildren gum or a candy bar occasionally. Gently clean and dress a small cut or wound. Keep that sigh to yourself when a mistake is made. Write messages of love and put them in their lunches. Mail, email or text a special picture you took on a visit. Make someone else’s bed. You get the idea. Add to the list as needed.
We generally have many different social groups, although some are limited during these trying times. Our world provides formal and informal groups including co-workers, church groups, exercise groups, servers at our favorite restaurants, parents of students at different schools, Facebook friends, neighbors, fellow students and so on. We have groups who share our views and many with different points of views.
Many sociologists express views that our society, economy, institutions, and political system will forever be changed if we do not make conscious efforts to build some positive sociability within our own groups. This is because showing kindness creates the shared values, trust and belonging that make social exchange possible. Learning to show kindness to others can be as simple as a change in attitude.
Much has been written about our interactions with others. A review of literature shows some basic concepts that may enhance positive communication with others in our orbits. Some of the points include:
- Learn to reserve judgment and keep an open mind. Make room for new knowledge from a new person, and a more colorful world will begin to open up before you. You can't always be right … so give someone else the opportunity to be.
- Find out what other people know by listening carefully. Your version of a random act of kindness could simply mean listening to someone. Don't make it all about you.
- Being kind means being honest. When someone asks you a question, be honest, be open, and explain your answer. They had the guts to ask you something, so do them a favor and give them a proper answer. You don't have to spill your whole soul to them but going a little deeper and making someone feel loved is the least you can do in your pursuit to be kind.
- Be selfless. When we're tired and cranky, it's easy to be unconsciously selfish in our actions. Again, this doesn't have to be some grand gesture. It can be as simple as putting yourself in another's shoes and asking how the divine one may have acted.
- Turn your attention away from yourself and highlight the beautiful qualities in another. Instead of outwardly giving yourself full credit for your successes, compliment what you see in another. It will bring you a kind of peace and connection you didn't know you needed.
You get what you give, so give the gift of kindness to the world. That is, if that's what you wish to receive. You are encouraged to review this hyperlink of more than 100 potential acts of kindness and consider how you may share some on the list. 100 Acts of Kindness.docx Click and open hyperlink to review.
Dr. Warren Hollar is a retired Alexander County School administrator and clinician retiree from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.