Kindness: Your Secret Superpower

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It’s been a long pandemic, 2020 bleeding into 2021, so unlike any experience in living memory. Many people were sent home, a year ago this week, and many haven’t made it back to normal yet. Some will never make it there, as “normal” collapsed around them with loss, illness, and death.

Compounding the woes of pandemic dysfunction, people are in precarious financial shape. Now many states are struggling to re-open schools and deal with the logistics of returning students, teachers, and new safety requirements: it’s overwhelming. Politically we’re still divided, rhetoric is shrill and extreme. Violence and anger are the norm, in the U.S. and throughout the world.

There’s so much in this toxic mix we’re helpless against. Individually, few among us have the ability to impact the major issues we face. We understand that alone, no one moves the needle on the economy, or on any issue of national or global importance. We have vaccines now, but we can’t force people to be vaccinated. It feels like we’re in a time of two steps forward, one step back.

It’s a fine mess we’re in, we humans. How can we begin to recover? Where do we start?

It’s easy to feel powerless and helpless, confronting so much at once. And yet we’re fascinated with the idea of power, real or imaginary. We especially like our comic book superheroes with their amazing superpowers, filling our screens, saving the day. They’re ever-popular, and inspire us mere mortals to be better, wiser, faster, stronger. Just more.

What if I told you that you have a superpower at your fingertips that you could use all day, every day? One that’s at your command with just a smile and the power of your intention?

Here’s my small suggestion. Healing, changing, and helping begins with individuals. Maybe if enough of us step up we can make a difference? There’s a quote I love that speaks to this: “Choose being kind over being right, and you’ll be right every time.” Richard Carlson

Here’s the truth of this superpower: we all have this special gift. It’s the power of kindness, and it is life-changing.

Kindness is a gift to the giver and the receiver. It opens doors and hearts that seem shut, heals wounds, fills emptiness, feeds the hungry, rescues victims, stands with the lonely and the unloved; it overcomes barriers of all kinds. It is universal, timeless, often free, and may be highly visible, or completely invisible, to all but the giver and receiver. It warms hearts, inspires new acts of kindness, and restores faith in humanity, love, and goodness.

Now that’s an impressive resume for such a humble attribute!

We sometimes hear a person described as “decent,” as in, “he/she’s a decent sort.” I suppose if we measure character on a continuum from worst to best, decent is a good place to begin. It’s ok to be decent. I think of someone who is “decent” as a person who’ll be kind in a casual way…they’ll be nice if it’s not too much trouble; and at the least, they probably won’t do you any harm.

But that’s not my goal, to be “decent.” I’d like to think I have more to offer than a minimum standard of average niceness.

If there’s any character trait I aspire to possess in abundance, it’s kindness. Some acts of kindness may be random; but living, day in, day out, with a kind heart, is an intentional, deliberate choice. Some people may be more disposed to kindness than others, and certainly, some acts of kindness may feel automatic. But true kindness is about more than just politeness, or random impulses scattered throughout a lifetime.

Kindness, like other virtues, can be cultivated. Although I don’t want to reduce the concept of kindness to mere habit, the truth is, we can get in the habit of looking for ways to be kind as we navigate our days. That begins with awareness…what’s going on around us? Who is around us? What stories do we pick up on as we talk with others?

I’m not advocating that we become nosy or over-reach into others’ lives. Just that we have awareness, and then look for opportunities to support the needs we see.

And also…you don’t have to be in need or some sort of trouble to be deserving of kindness.

Obviously, we know some stories well and in great detail. Hopefully, no one needs encouragement to be kind and supportive to their own family and friends.

But sometimes, intimate knowledge can blind us to how we can help. Some situations become so “known” that they no longer stand out.

Or maybe you’ve struggled with a narrative or individual for so long, you’ve exhausted your capacity for empathy?

Sometimes I have to step back, take a look at the big picture, and admit I’ve lost objectivity. Sometimes I have to admit, I can’t “fix” the real issues. Only the other person can do that. But I can still find ways to be kind, to say, “I’m here for you.”

Sometimes I just don’t see what’s right in front of me.

Have you ever learned of a struggle a friend or co-worker is going through, and realize, somehow you sensed things weren’t right. But you ignored your intuition.

Have you ever realized you were so wrapped up in your thoughts you were blind to someone’s pain, even though that person is in plain sight?

We’re human, and that’s going to happen. We all get lost in our heads. And given what we’ve been through in the last year, that’s more understandable than ever. But when I find myself doing that…finding that I’ve glossed over someone’s hurt in order to focus on myself…I promise myself, again, I’m going to be better. I’m going to be more aware, more thoughtful, more insightful.

Here’s the thing: you don’t have to put anyone on the spot, delve into their personal problems, or create awkward moments, to be kind. You can say, with a smile, “Hey, I brought you a coffee!” Or, “Hey, work can be overwhelming! Let me know how I can help!”

The secret here is to really mean what you say. If you offer to do something, be ready to pitch in. And when you do something nice for someone else, don’t set up an invisible scoreboard, and secretly wait for them to return the favor. Real kindness does not create an expectation of reward, reciprocation, or obligation.

Better yet, if you can, just show up (even if it’s via a zoom call.) We all know when we offer: “Let me know if you need anything…” that 9.75 times out of 10, no one is going to call and say they need something. That’s just not how most of us are wired. But if you show up to help? Or step in alongside someone and just start doing? That’s powerful!

I admit kindness is not going to solve the big problems of life. Kindness won’t give us a cure for Covid, and it won’t heal national politics. But fixing the big issues is usually not the job of kindness anyway. Kindness is most often about simple humanity, a gesture of friendship toward another person. Often, kindness is a shock absorber for the hard days, the hurts, the rejections, the weariness. That’s the heart of kindness. That’s powerful. And that’s within reach of all of us, even during a pandemic.

As with any suggestion, take this with a word of warning…occasionally you’re going to be rejected when you reach out. Just know, when that happens, you did your best to help, and that’s all. Don’t go down a negative path toward the other person. Maybe they’re just not able to receive your gift of kindness, and that’s on them, not you. But please don’t turn an attempt to do good into a wound.

And if you’re trying to be helpful, be aware of how you come across. Please don’t patronize. No one likes to feel less-than. Don’t undo the good intention of a kind deed with an attitude of condescension. Practicing kindness isn’t about judging if someone is worthy, or has the right background, education, or any other marker you could name. It’s just about one person helping another.

You’ve probably heard “It’s better to give than to receive.” I grew up on this saying, and I used to think this referred to money or some other type of tangible gift. But now I know it refers to any type of giving, whether it’s the gift of time, attention, assistance, friendship, etc. It doesn’t matter what the gift is, how large or small it is. It’s the act of giving that is the real treasure. And that’s the gift the giver receives.

Kindness is a broad and generic word for the best of humanity. It flows from one heart to another, whether those involved are the closest blood relations, best friends, casual acquaintances, or total strangers. Kindness can flow up and down in terms of age, financial status, power, intelligence, beauty, or any descriptor you can name. It literally knows no bounds.

Such a simple idea, to be kind to someone. Many of our best stories, our bravest heroes, real and make-believe, are known for this superpower. We look up to people who embody kindness. Why wouldn’t we want to offer more of it ourselves?

If you want to become more intentionally kind:

· You can find kindness lists and challenges online, or create your own. For a start, check out these sites:

https://www.randomactsofkindness.org/kindness-ideas

https://kindness.org/

https://www.kindnesstoaction.org/

· You can challenge yourself to perform a deliberate act of kindness each day. (I would make it something a little larger than holding a door or being polite. In my humble opinion, this level of kindness should just be part of daily, civilized life.) You can have fun deciding if you want to include others in your challenge. But a word of caution, please don’t turn this into a competition. Don’t muddy the goal of becoming more kind with the motivation of winning a game.

· You can work on your automatic responses. As you move through your day, can you slow down? Smile more? Go the extra mile? Be an example of kindness?

· You can talk with your children, significant other, or friends, about what you’re trying to do. Encourage others to inventory their habits and set a goal of being more deliberate about kindness. (This is such a great lesson for children…teach them to befriend the lonely kids on the playground or in class…it will make all the difference in the world to how they see children around them, and maybe even prevent others from being bullied.)

· You can keep a daily or weekly journal of your acts of kindness. You might be surprised at what you do over the course of a year! (But please don’t turn your list into bragging rights.)

· Keep a separate list of kindnesses you’ve received, and from whom. Surprise someone who’s been kind to you by writing them a thank you note. Let them know you noticed!

· If you really want to enlarge your scope for kindness, look for volunteer opportunities that serve people, pets, situations, or causes in need. Volunteering is another name for organized kindness!

Opportunities to be kind during the pandemic:

· You can always reach out to friends and family via a phone call or social media to check-in, share something lighthearted, share or send a link to a favorite new book, song, movie, recipe, etc.

· You can send a thoughtful gift from an online source. It doesn’t need to be expensive, just chosen with the recipient in mind. Let them know you’re thinking of them.

· You can write cards or letters and mail them, the old-fashioned way, or create a digital card and share that with anyone who could use a message of friendship, encouragement, or humor.

· If you’re physically close enough, you can pick up a special treat, or dinner, and deliver to a friend’s front door, or use a delivery service if you’d prefer, or share something from your own kitchen.

· For a co-worker, you can offer to assist with a project via zoom or other digital platforms.

· If you have children in school, ask their teachers if you can help them in some way.

· Donate blood.

· Check with local food banks and shelters to see if they need volunteers.

· Foster a pet if that’s doable for you.

· Check on elderly neighbors or those with disabilities who might need additional help.

· Check online for virtual volunteer opportunities.

· If you’re part of a church or other organization, ask about needs of other members.

· Donate to local businesses, reputable charities, and/or disaster relief if possible.

· If you have time, write a paragraph or two to share with friends and family members about your relationship and why it’s meaningful to you.

These are a few ways to bring kindness to the forefront of your relationships, but really, it just comes down to setting your intention, being observant, and choosing to go out of your way to care for other people.

A great by-product of this mindset: when you’re thinking about what you can do for others, you focus less on your own worries. You may find yourself smiling more. You’ll probably feel good knowing you’ve done some good for other people. It’s funny the way this works. I’d never encourage anyone to be kind for selfish reasons; but there’s no doubt, spreading kindness brings its own reward.

I have to add one disclaimer: none of this encouragement to be kind is intended to place guilt. The world has enough guilt! Do what you can do, and be ok with that. Being kind is not a competitive sport, nor is the focus meant to be on the person who is being kind. The focus is on the individuals who receive kindness. Remember the order of operations, and don’t confuse your priorities!

Good luck, Superhuman! I know you have it in you to grow your capacity for kindness; and maybe, just maybe, you’ll find you’re feeling a little brighter and a little lighter.

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No Matter What People Tell You, Words And Ideas Can Change The World.

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Sheila Gibson

Sheila Gibson

http://storyrevisioned.com — Author + life purpose wisdom for drifting souls. Joy spreader; Dragon slayer on occasion. @Sheilalgibson

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