Simple acts, big impacts

An Cailín Rua

BENEFIT IN KIND The repercussions of acting with kindness are manifold and always positive.

An Cailín Rua
Anne-Marie Flynn

What’s the most attractive quality in a person? Whether it’s in a friend, a colleague, a partner or even a stranger, I always find myself coming back to kindness. Kindness is so often the preserve of inspirational quotes on Instagram: ‘In a world where you can be anything, be kind’ plastered over a cute puppy or an idyllic forest. But its real and meaningful manifestation in our daily lives is what makes it worth being alive.
Last week, the previous few days hadn’t been great. The mood was low, the stress was high, the workload was higher and the despair was starting to set in. Then something happened – of my own making – that made everything exponentially worse, in my own head at least.
As I was drowning in my own private chaos, a friend sensed that all was not well. The doorbell rang, and in they arrived with a box of chocolates and a hug. They sat for an hour, gently steering me away from the growing pile of emails. We talked about silly and serious things, they slagged off my stressed head. And my mind calmed. My perspective was restored.
They returned to work and the trajectory of my week had changed for the better. It might not sound like a huge deal, but days later the kindness of that person who was kind enough to take time out of their day is still lifting me. (I can’t lie, the chocolate also helped.)
‘Be kind’ is, of course, excellent advice, but as human beings we are selective in our kindness. That is one of the things that makes us human. It is easy to be kind to someone when we know them and we love them, or they are someone we want to know and love us.
It is easy to be kind when we have time to do so. It is harder to go out of our way to show kindness, if for example, we are under time pressure. It is the hardest thing of all to show kindness to a person we do not like, or whose opinions we do not respect.
Being kind to ourselves is also important. In the wake of the aforementioned incident, I raged against my own perceived stupidity and carelessness. No-one reprimanded or scolded me, though it would probably have been deserved. So I just gave myself a fierce hard time. Though there were no Delirium Tremens involved, the level of self-flagellation would have put Christy Moore to shame.
It was only when the smoke had cleared I wondered how I would have reacted had I been the one affected, and I’d like to think I would have afforded the same kindness I was shown. Making mistakes is a part of life; to err is human, to forgive is divine but to forgive oneself without a stint in purgatory can feel a bit sinful. But it’s important.
As is connection; kindness is underpinned by human connection, and we have been a little starved of that this past couple of years. It means that reaching out is more important than ever, because you might never understand the importance of that outreached hand – it could well save someone from drowning. Even if it doesn’t, you’ll still feel better yourself for doing it.
Roald Dahl might not be a paragon of virtue, but in The Twits, he wrote: “A person who has good thoughts cannot ever be ugly. You can have a wonky nose and a crooked mouth and a double chin and stick-out teeth, but if you have good thoughts they will shine out of your face like sunbeams and you will always look lovely.”
Combine this great incentive with the science that shows acting with kindness has benefits like increasing self-esteem, improving our mood, decreasing blood pressure and lowering levels of the stress hormone cortisol, and you’d wonder why we even bother being unkind.
So if we take the time to write that card, send that text, give a compliment, hold off being snidey in the comments, or just take the time to ‘be’ with someone we love – or someone we don’t, with or without a box of chocolates  – won’t we all be the better for it?