The How and Why of Kindness
“Unexpected kindness is the most powerful, least costly, and most underrated agent of human change.” — Bob Kerry
There are several definitions of kindness that resonate an organization that defends bullied children and helps rebuild lives. First, being kind means that you think about the needs and concerns of others. Kind people volunteer, they help others, and they contemplate issues that impact their community. Individuals who exhibit compassionate thinking and generous acts will also demonstrate kindness. However, probably most importantly is that kindness is considered to be the psychological opposite to bullying and victimization.
Years ago, upon speaking to my son’s former school about the bullying he endured, I was informed by a school counselor and former teacher that kindness cannot be taught. I was appalled. I knew that could not be true. Kindness can be both instinctual and can also be learned. In fact, stopbullying.gov tells us that there are key elements in teaching kindness in schools:
- Include gratitude activities
- Include volunteer activities or service learning
- Include students to develop activities to help others
- Facilitate respectful conversations
- Generate open-ended discussion questions
- Encourage working together
- Teach and model naming and expressing emotions
Yes indeed, experts tell us that kindness can be taught. The outcomes of teaching kindness with students is astounding. Stopbullying.gov states that when elementary students are taught kindness they are more empathic, more socially aware and connected, and they receive higher grades too. Young children tend to help each other and that desire to help seems innate. They do so without an expectation of praise as the act itself has the built-in reward of feeling useful. Children who engage in acts of kindness tend to be more connected, have higher levels of peer acceptance and are less likely to bully others. Kindness helps children in particular see how they are similar rather than how they are different.
In Signe Whitson’s book 8 Keys to End Bullying, she advises “instead of the focus on all of the Thou Shalt Nots of bullying, student-led initiatives can promote building school cultures of respect by encouraging fun ways that kids can show kindness to each other. The trick in these sorts of initiatives is making sure that the students who would benefit from kindness the most do not end up left out in the cold, while students who already enjoy high social status shower each other with adoration. Adults play a key role in making sure that acts of kindness for some do not end up functioning as acts of exclusion for others.”
Kindness is deeply intertwined with physical and mental health. The positive impacts of kindness include:
- Pain – Endorphins are released in the brain which is a natural painkiller.
- Stress – Kind people age slower and have lower stress.
- Anxiety and Depression – Kindness will improve mood, depression and anxiety. Kindness will stimulate the production of serotonin which will heal wounds and increase happiness.
- Blood Pressure – Blood pressure can be reduced through acts of kindness. The hormone oxytocin is released which causes another chemical, nitric oxide, to increase which will dilate blood vessels and reduce blood pressure.
- Pleasure – Dopamine is released in elevated levels which causes the brain’s pleasure/reward centers to light up. (This is sometimes referred to as a “helper’s high.”)
- Self-Worth – Kindness will cause one to feel good about themselves and thus increase their self-worth.
- Relationships – Kindness reduces the distance between individuals thus improving relationships of all types.
The benefits of kindness are endless. It can be taught and modeled to others. It is contagious. Experiencing an act of kindness can improve our mood and also increase the likelihood of spreading that kindness to others. Individuals who perform acts of kindness are much less likely to bully others. Kindness causes happiness. The act of kindness not only positively impacts the giver and receiver, but anyone who witnesses it.
Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.