Be Selfish, Share Your Sunshine

Jan 10, 2019
Be Selfish, Share Your SunshineArtwork by Devin Bill

Take a moment. Think about what kindness means - to you, in your life.

Not nice.
Nice is polite and agreeable. Nice says pleasant things and tries to avoid (or ignore) unpleasantness. Some very nice people live by "if you can't say anything nice about someone, say nothing at all." They may smile a lot.

Being nice is not a bad thing. It need not be superficial. We could all use more manners, choose our words and actions more thoughtfully, talk less and smile more.

But kindness
(did you think about what it means to you?) is deeper. It has connective tissue. It is more personal. Generous, considerate. Affectionate, warm, even loving.

While each of us is attracted to different traits and behaviors, kindness is appreciated by just about everyone, young and old.

Why it's universally important

Because kindness differs from decorum and delves into deeds, it requires imagining what another person may be feeling (empathy) and then doing something - even if it's just listening or giving someone needed space - that demonstrates they are heard, cared about, loved.

In our overly divisive, not-always-nice world, kindness is arguably more important now than ever. It can take endless forms because at its best kindness is customized to another's needs and preferences.

Kindness is valuable because it takes a bit of time and effort. We tend to do what we're rewarded for - particularly in the workplace. Thoughtful unpaid gestures aren't measured (or rewarded) in business, government and many segments of society. "Nice guys finish last" still retains its (un)healthy stronghold in business. As does, "It's not personal; it's just business" - often someone's justification that the unkind or unethical thing done to you is a law of the universe. Sometimes you do what you have to do to get it done. Sound familiar?

What is the kindness payoff?

This very question implies that caring is transactional - something that I still chafe at but science gives us tons of evidence that traits and behaviors die out unless there's a benefit. Alas, even altruism isn't pure.

Psychologists largely believe that there's no such thing as true altruism. Doing kindnesses for others for the sake of doing them is impossible, research says, because we always have some self-interest (pride, satisfaction, alleviating guilt, or expectation of reciprocity).

Does it matter? Of course we like to be appreciated, we sometimes feel guilty if we don't do something for someone we love or for one in need, and we may expect kindness in return. Does that make kindness less important?

In a word, no.

In fact, doing altruistic deeds benefits us in myriad positive ways, including emotional, social and psychological well being. So not to worry If our initial motive for being kind is "I'll feel better about myself." It's possible that our initial motivations evolve into less selfish motives.

By showing up each week to read to my 92-year-old neighbor, the costs of being a good person (taking time out of my busy day) can morph into the benefits of connection. My kind gestures are no longer just about being a good person but about being in a relationship with a someone I truly care about.

I'd like to think that kindness has a mathematical magic all to itself. Peter Pan's creator James M. Barrie, wrote its formula in 14 words:

Those who bring sunshine into the lives of others cannot keep it from themselves.

I like sunshine and I'm selfish enough to admit it.