Kindness is indeed a powerful force. Regardless of how talented we may be, kindness increases our value.
Former New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter is bound for the Baseball Hall of Fame – for his ability as a player and his cordiality toward others. Opponents talk of how he would walk up to rookies who had just made it to second base and say, quietly and inconspicuously, “Nice hit, kid.”
To those new in their role as major league players, this meant the world. It also set a precedent. If one of the greatest in the game could be gracious, why couldn’t everyone?
There are tremendous benefits to being kind. While we may think that those who act this way are more likely to be taken advantage of, research shows they’re actually more effective. And Jeter was arguably the best player of his generation.
Practising kindness leads to better performance. Students who regularly volunteer, for example, have better grades. Companies that gave assistance after the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004 saw unexpected rises in their stock prices.
People who are good to others also tend to have better health, better relationships and overall happier lives than those who don’t.
Why, then, would anyone be unkind?
According to social psychologist Nathan Heflick, “Insecurity over ourselves drives much of the cruelty in the world.” When individuals feel threatened, they tend to respond with unkindness. The same holds for groups of people.
Perhaps this explains the rise of militancy among “social justice warriors.” These are people who sincerely want to see positive change in the world but respond with anger to those who have conflicting views, even threatening their right to express their opinions. In a democratic society, this is dangerous.
Being kind to others doesn’t mean we agree with what they say or do. It means we’re confident in who we are and aren’t threatened. It means we understand the big picture.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.” When we comprehend this truth, we know we can stand firmly for what we believe is right and yet listen to the views of those who don’t agree with us. We’re aware that the outcome of respectful dialogue will “bend toward justice.”
It’s the same on an individual level. As a teacher, I know the first ingredient in an effective classroom is a positive relationship with my students. People need to feel safe in order to learn. Effective routines, rules and logical consequences are essential in establishing this environment, but so is kindness. The way that I treat others not only helps them to feel secure, it establishes a precedent, much like Jeter’s presence on a baseball field, and it allows learning to take place.
When we know we’re loved unconditionally, we have the confidence to try, like a baby who falls down a thousand times in learning to walk. Confidence rises out of kindness from others, as well as benevolence toward ourselves. This self-assurance also allows us to be kind. It’s a beautiful cycle.
There will always be those who feel threatened and try to hurt others. Each of us will feel insecure from time to time.
Our mistakes, however, don’t define us.
We’re at our best when we’re kind and it’s our kindness that moves the world forward in a positive light.
Gerry Chidiac is an award-winning high school teacher specializing in languages, genocide studies and work with at-risk students.
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