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Make kindness a daily habit

Last week we looked at the underrated virtue: kindness.

It is easy to be self-absorbed. Some of us are lost in our own egos. Others are trapped in their own miseries. Yet others have no time for anything but their own race to the pinnacles of success. The harder thing is to be aware of every person we encounter, and to be ready to be kind to them.

At its heart, kindness is a benevolence towards the world. It is the ability to feel troubled when others are troubled; it is the desire to see happiness in faces other than our own. It is the instinct to help the hungry animal we encounter rather than kick it. It is the one thing in us that is directed outward. It radiates, it does not absorb.

The most respected leader, the most desirable mate, the most remarkable artist, the most dependable friend – all are complete when they also have simple kindness to offer. Achievement is compounded when it is outward. We achieve most when we achieve it for others, not just for ourselves.

Can we expect businessfolk to be kind? Of course we can. Kindness should be an integral part of all our natures. Business is not the vicious pursuit of personal gain at the expense of everyone else. The best businesspeople I have known are those who embed kindness into their work. They are conscious of their entire ecosystem around them. They gain by delivering gain. They don’t make profits by short-changing their customers or exploiting their staff. They see the ability to deliver widespread value as a competitive advantage.

Could politicians be kind? That is indeed their actual remit: to be of service to the collective and to uplift it. Politics has become the preserve of the psychotically selfish, when it should be attracting those whose innate kindness propels them to greater impact. Voters ignore truly kind-hearted candidates and elect manipulators and fakers instead. And then wonder why they languish in poverty.

You can’t fake kindness, though. You can fake the act, but not the feeling. True kindness is spontaneous, quiet and unthinking. It is not planned for the cameras. It does not bring attention to itself.

If you struggle to make kindness a part of your daily essence, here are three thoughts for you.

First, don’t equate kindness with weakness. Selfishness is the true weakness; it is an inability to be strong enough to have a bigger deal than the self. Being kind is not being soft-hearted or being an easy touch or failing to stand up to nonsense. Kindness can be tough, too. It is not just a routine act of charity. Being ready to solve problems in the longer term for the greater good is a higher form of kindness, one that requires gumption and determination.

Next, kindness is not an investment awaiting a return. It is purely outward. The only reward is the reconnection with the better part of our natures. It is an affirmation, not an outlay. Real kindness is never recorded by the giver. It is an unthinking gift, with no expectation of return. It comes without conditions, and expects no reward. Showy, self-conscious giving is not kindness at all – it is merely selfishness disguised as generosity.

Third, kindness is powerful. If we want to change the world around us, we have something at our disposal that costs us little and can be done immediately. ‘How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world’, said Anne Frank. Kindness has a profound effect on both giver and recipient. It spreads, because it reminds us all of our better natures. It is an agent of change that requires no change management.

Every set of numbers, every work of art, every scientific breakthrough is amplified when it is seasoned with kindness. Every ‘me’ has more power when it does something for the ‘we.’ When you train yourself for accomplishment, remember also to exercise the kindness muscle. We all have it, but it atrophies when we don’t use it. It wilts when we become cynical and selfish.

Be whatever you are. Be clever, be strong, be elegant, be playful, be contemplative, be confident, be odd. But be kind as well. There is an opportunity to be kind right now, right there in your life. Take it.

(Sunday Nation, 4 March 2018)

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