Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Three Kinds of Kindness

At our group discussion on kindness earlier this month (I lead a monthly discussion group on the 10 Steps), we identified three kinds of kindness to focus on as we develop the habit of kindness. I thought I would share this part of the discussion with you.

1. Spontaneous Kindness

This is the sort of kindness that is in response to a perceived need or opportunity. You might see a colleague looking sad and ask if everything is all right. You might offer a helping hand to a neighbor. You might greet a person passing by with a smile and hello.

While driving a few months ago, I noticed a woman in a wheelchair on the sidewalk next to a van parked at the curb. The van had a ramp that was partially unfolded, but seemed to be stuck. The woman held something in her hand – I couldn’t tell if it was a control for the van or perhaps a cell phone. As I passed by, I looked for a driver or someone nearby who might be helping her, but I saw no one.

I continued another block or two wondering whether an offer of help would be appropriate or an unwelcome intrusion, but decided to circle back and see. I pulled over behind her van, got out, and asked her if she needed some help. Yes, she said. If I could just pull the bottom section of the ramp out, it would flatten out. It was easy enough to do, requiring only a gentle tug. It took me less than a minute from the time I stopped till I was back on my way.

As we go through our day, there are many opportunities we have to lighten someone’s burden or to brighten someone’s day. See how many you can find.

2. Planned Kindness

There are many ways to plan kindness. You can plan for a certain time period – a day, a week, a month. You can identify any number of acts of kindness during that period. The point is to plan in advance specific acts of kindness you will do for identified recipients.

When my daughter was in first grade, her teacher called me one afternoon to tell me that she had been part of a group of children who were cruelly teasing a classmate about his severe allergies and the accommodations that were necessary to keep him safe. I couldn’t believe that MY child would act like that. (Can anyone relate?)

I sat her down in her time out chair and laid out her consequences. “Peter is now your new best friend. If anyone teases him, you will defend him. For the next two weeks, you will sit in this chair for five minutes every morning before you go to school, and you will plan three nice things to do for him that day. Then you will come home after school and tell me about doing them.” Amazingly, she did as told and, even more amazingly, did become Peter’s best friend. I saw that she felt good about being kind and by the end of the two weeks was looking forward to planning her nice gestures. It was a great way to start her day.

Hopefully, we haven’t been teasing anyone and don’t need to make amends. But what I learned from that is that we can plan to be kind. It’s fun to plan and it’s fun to carry out our plans. So pick a time period and make a list!

3. Fake It Till You Make It Kindness

Sometimes, we don’t feel kind. We don’t even want to feel kind. It’s possible that this is the best time to be kind. Kindness is a great thing because we don’t always have to feel it to get the benefit of it. A kind act can generate a subsequent feeling of kindness.

I had a supervisor years ago who was, as the saying goes, a child of God cleverly disguised as a total jerk. He made all our lives miserable. His method of management was to criticize and humiliate. I dreaded having to talk to him. Finally, one day I just decided to be nice. I don’t know why I did that. I wasn’t making a strategic or an enlightened decision. I just did it. I thanked him for helping me with a project (even though his “help” was to tell me I was doing it all wrong). I asked his opinion on another matter. That threw him off balance so much he actually gave me a compliment!

I would like to tell you that our department was transformed into one big happy family, but it wasn’t. What did change was my attitude. I no longer saw myself as a victim. I went about my business and wasn’t so churned up. I began to see why he might act the way he did, and even felt compassion for him. The kindness became genuine. No, we were never buddies, but we developed a more positive working relationship.

I’m not suggesting that we use kindness as a way to manipulate someone, or that we use kindness when we are in danger, or that we use it as an assault of our own (as in “Take that!”) What I am suggesting is that sometimes a kind gesture can break through our own feelings of judgment or defensiveness, and soften our own hearts. And that can lead to a feeling of well being and a capacity for genuine kindness.

“Do something wonderful for someone else today...and you will make two people happy.” Thanks to Jo who shared that quote in a comment on the last post.

Related posts: The Kindness Game, Kindness Pays, A Few Leaves


  1. Kindness is definitely a selfless gesture but I also find kindness to be selfish, the kinder I am to others the better I feel! :-)

    Have a wonderful day Galen, I enjoyed reading this post, thank you.

  2. I hadn't ever thought about it, but you're absolutely right about these 3 forms of kindness. All are totally appropriate in their own place and time. Thanks for sharing such a great post! I really enjoyed it!

  3. Kindness can be offered in so many different ways. Fresh on my mind was an experience from yesterday. I am heavily involved as a volunteer in prison ministry. Yesterday I went to a prison complex about an hour south of town and spent several hours with a handful of inmates. We talked, had Bible study, and established connections between us.

    Simply showing them the respect any human deserves, listening to what they had to say, and sharing some of my time with guys who often have no one else in their life is a form of kindness. It makes their lives just a little brighter for that afternoon and makes me feel great.

    Kindness takes a little of your time and a little of yourself. The payback for all parties concerned is tremendous.

  4. This was an awesome post. I loved how you focused on three kinds of kindness. You handled the problem with your child in a wonderful way. I worked with a older nurse in an ICU for a couple of years. She would get very upset if I was assigned to be the charge nurse for the shift. Finally I decided that I needed to show more interest in getting to know her. I started out by asking her questions about her life and as she opened up she became more friendly towards me.
    Thanks for your thoughts.
    Blessings to you!

  5. These are three very useful methods, Galen, and I appreciate thinking about all of them. I would add a fourth one; Be kind to yourself.

    We all need kindness, and sometimes others will act unkindly toward us. The damage this does can be mitigated by being kind to yourself in response, on behalf of the person who acted to hurt you (possibly in ignorance, though not always). If you treat yourself with kindness, you will naturally want to share that feeling of well-being with others.

  6. darlin--Exactly! As the quote says--we make two people happy! Thanks for your comment.

    Chrissy--It helps me find more opportunities to be kind if I think about these different types. Thanks for commenting.

    Bob--I so admire your prison ministry. It reminds me of what Jesus said about visiting "him" in prison when we visit others. I would like to know how you got started wtih that.

    LeAnn--Thanks for sharing your story. Sometimes being kind just breaks through a pattern and allows for new energy.

    Mikey--This is so important! We have to include oursleves in developing the habit of kindness. Thank you for pointing this out!

  7. Galen -
    Mother Teresa once said “Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier. Be the living expression of God's kindness: kindness in your face, kindness in your eyes, kindness in your smile.”

    When I worked in the corporate world, a new hire worked across from me. I didn't know her very well and really didn't want to, but thought we should at least be friendly since we worked together. When my friendliness and kindness were extended to her she gave hers and we became good friends. We experienced many good times and I benefited greatly from our friendship.

  8. I really like the first two, and I practice both. Number three might take some arm twisting, but it is an interesting concept.

  9. Ellene--Thank you for sharing the lovely quote, and also the story about your coworker. You never know what can happen. Sometimes a kind word just lifts spirits on the spot. Sometimes it opens doors for the future.

    JJ--Yeah, that last one is a bit tough. However, I have used it myself, and I've helped my kids use it, enough to see that it can, on occasion, really change unpleasant dynamics. If you decide to give it a try, let me know what happens.

  10. Galen,
    This was wonderful! I never thought of breaking down kindness into these categories, but the do exist as you illustrated so well. I love that you found a way to see your supervisor more "kindly" too. When it comes right down to it our enjoyment of life is really up to us.

  11. so enjoyed your categories and sub-divisions - another moment of great story telling to share the point.

    I liked your "punishment" or consequences to the teasing. One of my children was so often teased and another was proud of being a "mean girl" for awhile...it was hard for me to deal with,and we managed - and now one is a pied piper and the other a business woman who is not a victim - strong

    Thank you for your good words.

    I am sharing about my father today on PW, he was a brilliant and kind person - he just lived his life from the very deep core of himself...and elegant gentleman.

  12. Hi Galen,

    Spontaneous kindness comes most naturally to me. I am always ready to lend a listening ear to someone who needs it. If I can help to relieve their burden a little by listening or helping in some other small way, I would be most happy to do so.

    I remember when I was very young, I used to tease others myself. But as I got older and became aware, I no longer tease or say cruel things. I suppose it is very easy for me to place myself in the shoes of others, and so I always try to avoid making people feel bad. Even so, I might be a little too direct at times, but as far as I am able, I always try to keep myself in check and help in a tactful way.

    Thank you for sharing this lovely article! :)

    Irving the Vizier

  13. Patricia--Yes, I had a "mean girl" too for awhile. She outgrew it, I think!

    Irving--I love the way you describe spontaneous kindness. As for the teasing, I think we stop when we are finally able to really understand the impact of our actions, to have empathy. Thanks, as always, for your insightful comment.

  14. kindness is the sweetest medicine one can give to a disperate soul... people don't have this trait, its so very unfortunate


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