Is Kindness really overrated? Or is it still one of the most powerful forces in the world?
For the MKB community blog, I have asked several bloggers what it means to be “kind” in their country and what they think about it, hoping for a snapshot of “Kindness around the world”. It was a real pleasure to read all their answers and feel their love for their peers.
My daughter, hugging a statue representing a victim of Nazism. Oberursel, Germany.
I would like to start with Bronwyn, of Journeys of a Fabulist, who lives in Singapore and has witnessed firsthand how important kindness was for the people in this Asian country:
Around the world, most cultures believe in some form of kindness. Singapore has gone one further and turned it into an official movement. The Singapore Kindness Movement – a non-government organisation inspired by former Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong, housed in an old police building, and listed as an official “Institution of Public Character” – works to inspire “graciousness” in the Singaporean public. “Give up your seat for those in need,” their signs suggest on buses and subways. On their website you can take a quiz to find out how kind you are really, and get tips to improve your rating, from simple acts like smiling at your local kopitiam staff all the way up to major service roles helping out your community.
As a foreigner, it struck me as odd. I mean, a whole organisation whose job is not to help others, but to inspire people to help others? Isn’t that a bit meta? You have to see it in the context of Singapore’s rapid transformation from a series of Kampungs to a modern metropolis, coupled with its low-welfare policies. The village had its own social structures for reminding people to care for each other, and the Singapore Kindness Movement is the big city equivalent. It’s not a perfect system. I’m sure the Kampung wasn’t, either – it’s hard to keep people from falling through the cracks. But by and large, compared to similarly-sized places, Singaporeans seem readier to offer their seats to the needy or put some money in the charity tin. Graciousness indeed.
What a life changing experience it seems to be for Bronwyn! The same can be said for Florentine of Oxfrognews who lives in Oxford, UK and has encountered the British style of saying things in a gentle way. She wrote about the nicknames used to address one another in My love? Oh dear! (blog post in French) and explains to us some of the more endearing language expressions and groomed behaviors.
What I like a lot about England is the way people talk to you. It’s often very sweet, charming and pleasant. We speak to you by adding “my love” or “sweety” and right away that gives a cute note to the conversation and doesn’t build fences or distance. At first, we were quite surprised but frankly we became quickly accustomed and we appreciate this familiar way of communicating. It’s the first thing that came to my mind when I thought about the word “kindness”. But it has to be said that for the British, “kindness” is linked with “politeness” –in my opinion- and so with the importance of respecting someone else.
It could be a bit disturbing when the message is so polite and kind that we don’t really know what the other person thinks. Like in this instance: “It’s entirely up to you, please do as you like…” a sentence people use and sometimes abuse. These “ultra-kind” English formulations can on occasion be rather difficult to decode when you come from another country. Being at the end of the school year, a beautiful English tradition comes to mind: the children say “thank you” to their teachers. “Thank you teacher!” cards can also be found in the papershops.
[Texte original en français: Ce que j'aime beaucoup en Angleterre c'est la manière dont on vous parle. C'est très souvent doux, charmant et agréable. On vous adresse la parole avec « my love » ou « sweety » ce qui donne tout de suite un ton mignon à la conversation et ne met pas de barrière ou de distance. Au début on est étonné mais finalement on s'habitue très vite et on apprécie cette façon proche de communiquer. C'est la première chose qui m'est venue à l'esprit quand j'ai pensé à "kindness". Mais il faut dire que pour les Anglais "kindness" est à mon avis aussi relié avec "politeness" et donc l'importance du respect de l'autre. Cela peut aussi être un peu perturbant quand le message est tellement poli et gentil qu'on ne sait plus ce que pense vraiment l'autre. Je pense à des phrases comme "it's entirely up to you, please do as you like..." dont les gens usent et abusent parfois. Les formulations "ultra-gentilles" à l'anglaise peuvent parfois être difficiles à décoder lorsqu’on vient d'un autre pays. En cette fin d'année une coutume anglaise de toute beauté m'est venue à l'esprit : les enfants "disent merci" à leur maîtresse (ou pour les plus grands aux enseignants) pour l'année scolaire. Il existe même des cartes à acheter: "thank you teacher".]
Cultural kindness can be even more ingrained in a society. While dealing with a terrible illness, Lana, who lives in the Philippines, recognizes that her friends and the people she meets are giving her an amount of love and help that she would have never thought possible. She tells us that she is “showered with so much goodness” and is now able to see more clearly the good acts realized everyday around her. Her article In the midst of Goodness, written in her blog Smart Tinker, teaches the reader how Filipinos define the concepts of Goodness / Kindness and Shared Identity. Language, philosophy and communication are intertwined in the definition of these concepts. To journey into her post is to learn a new path for kind interpersonal relations, a path made of wisdom and love.
Sheila from Pennies of Time shares the observations she has made in the USA. This dynamic woman participates in a group who helps people to go serve others. She says that everyone deals differently with how to be kind, and that’s good because we are all different. Each one of us can be an example for someone, and that cheering one another to do good strengthen our relationships.
Here is what I thought about kindness in the US: In the United States, I find that much of our culture is focused on being quicker and better. With a capitalistic market, products and services are designed around how to make our personal experience better. Make your personal appearance younger, more beautiful. Get places or information faster. Entertainment is focused on the fleeting experience of a few minutes of pleasure.
On the outset, it can seem overly selfish. What I have discovered, though, is that kindness is celebrated and appreciated by others. People have a strong need to experience and witness acts of kindness. Those displays of kindness go viral, and people want to feel connected to the deep emotion that occurs when another is compassionate and loving. When a disaster strikes, or a tragedy occurs, there is no hesitation for our communities to come together and for people to reach out across long distances to help fill a need. In 2012, when the tornadoes struck Oklahoma, I drove 3 hours with my family to help with the disaster relief. Do you know what I found? Others there that had driven much further, even days, hauling trailers full of clean-up supplies and equipment. At the holiday time, I volunteered with my 5 year old to help distribute toys to homeless shelters and there were others right there with me, strangers that wanted to help those in need.
Sheila’s boys cleaning a creek
It seems that Becky (founder of Kid World Citizen) has the same approach to this topic. In an inspiring post, she relates how her multicultural family has challenged themselves to do as many Random Acts of Kindness as possible in one day. What is particularly delightful is that her children were at the core of the project. As she said in her post: I told the kids to think of ways we could be nice to others, and show them kindness and gratitude without expecting anything in return. The kids had great ideas!!
Children are eager to do things that will make people smile. They thrive at being creative and generous. Kindness is an expression of love, and children are loving (and lovely) creatures.
A boy around Sophie’s age offered her a cookie. They spent ten minutes watching the fountain nearby, climbing up and down the bench and sitting together in silence or laughter. Children can be so kind… and cute too!
Like Becky, Leanna’s family had a Random Acts of Kindness day, which she wrote about here. She was so happy with her experience that she decided to run a series on her blog (All Done Monkey), featuring other bloggers narrating their days of Kindness.
She also shared with me a prayer the children of the Bahá’í Faith love to recite. To be kind is one of the requests of this prayer.
As Farrah (Global Advocacy) expresses in her Random acts of Ramadan Kindness post, many religions hold the value of Kindness as one of the most precious interactions with another being. The Golden Rule echoes in me when I think of Kindness and Goodness. Inasmuch, the hadiths ending Farrah’s article remind us that Islam is in fact a religion in which charity and kindness are clearly rooted:
“He who is deprived of kindness is deprived of goodness.”
“God is not kind to him who is not kind to people.”
As for me, at the beginning of this year 2014, I pondered on what I could share with my readers and what would be a main topic in my writing life for the following months. As you can read on my Projet Smile page, the words “Kindness”, “Generosity” and “Service” have been chosen to highlight this year on my blog. I have given challenges – the TWC: This week challenge – and carried them out (and I will do it until the end of December), written about some aspects of being kind, and shared good deeds people in the world have done.
I am not done with this project! I have many posts waiting to be finished (whining in the draft folder…), one of those will be about the worth of “Service” in religions. As a Christian, being good to my neighbor, showing Kindness and changing any of my “too individualistic” habits to charitable ones, are the expression of a true change of heart. It’s what we strive for, being more loving and kind as Jesus Christ is. Of course, I won’t be like Him in a snap of fingers. It’s a life’s journey!
Right now, there are a lot of men, women and children from various backgrounds who live their lives in an altruistic form, refusing to be enslaved by the egoistic ways of the “modern and developed society”. Kindness may have been attacked and blamed for how people deny their personal “desires” and think only of the others… But in doing so, the society has lost the essential link between its members. The common good and the shared experiences and responsibilities, for far too much people, are not anymore the key for happiness in their community. It’s tragic. And it’s up to us dear readers, to bring back more Kindness in the world. Starting today by doing ONE Kind Act, even a very small one. And day after day, continuing on the road of Love and Service, doing your part and witnessing what is done in your neighborhood. By your kind deeds, you can be the flapping of the wings that will create a storm of loving smiles!