I did an online interview with CNN recently that was all about kindness.
One of the questions they asked me was about the ripple effect of kindness and what that means for us. Since I was very young I’ve had a strong belief that a small group of people with compassion and kindness in their hearts can change the world.
Some of that I picked up just by watching my Mum. She has always been the kindest person I know and I used to see how her kindness would bring a smile to people’s faces, and then I’d notice how it would effect them enough that they would spread their good cheer onto others.
I guess I was always destined to be involved in science in one way or another.
As a child, I just intuitively held this idea that if more people were kind we could make the world happier. As an adult, one of my driving forces has been to find compelling scientific evidence that shows us just how amazing we all are and how we really can change the world through kindness.
Think of the ripple effect of kindness like dominos all lined up. If you push the first domino it sets off a chain reaction and the rest of them fall down too. Acts of kindness are like that. When you are kind to one person, they really do carry your good act forwards.
It’s funny how we look for scientific evidence of this kind of thing to confirm its truth when the truth is, in fact, right in front of you, in the laboratory of your own life.
How do you feel when someone helps you out of a sticky situation? Relief, perhaps? Happy? Upbeat? It’s most likely a positive feeling of some kind. You’ll feel in good cheer. And it’s almost certain that you pass that good cheer on.
I’d hazard a guess that many of you reading this right now, when someone has helped you out, have helped someone else out shortly afterwards.
I believe that we’re wired for kindness. It’s embedded in the human genome, this tendency to care for each other, to look out for each other, to help make life that little bit more comfortable for each other. Yes, there are always exceptions. We can also be selfish. We can be both things. But I’d say that it’s mostly life experiences, social environment, and stress that cloud our natural tendencies to be kind.
Elizabeth, my partner, once pointed out to me as our flight took off on a very cloudy day, that eventually the plane will rise above the clouds to a place where the sun always shines. She was also making reference to a conversation we’d had about kindness and whether people are naturally warm-hearted or not. We agreed that storm clouds can obscure people’s natural self. They have certainly obscured my natural self at different, difficult times in my life. Perhaps the challenge we all face at various times it to see through these clouds and notice the real person inside, just as if we’d hope that others could extend the same to us when we’re not quite ourselves.
I’ve noticed that when I do this, quite often the person swiftly changes their behavior. It’s like you tease another aspect out of them just by noticing what’s on the inside.
My friend David Hayman (The Scottish actor) comically put it another way. It was in reference to someone who worked in the charity office of ‘Spirit Aid Foundation’, a charity that David & I and a few other friends co-founded back in 2001. The girls in the office had described this person as a ‘chaos agent’, someone who seemed to bring chaos and conflict everywhere he went. I had bought into this description one day when I observed some emotional carnage in the office.
David immediately set me straight and instructed me that I was to remind myself that this person was, indeed, an angel of God. I held my head in shame as I realized how I’d lost my own compassionate center of focus, before David added, “He’s just cleverly disguised as an a**hole.”
The question is, though, which part are you willing to see when you are confronted by such an ‘angel’? Because the part you focus on is the part that you’ll get most of.
I’m not suggesting that everything will be healed by this simple shift of focus. Let’s have a little common sense. But I am saying that there are far more times than you’d think that such a shift in focus can, and will, make a positive difference.
You can be a kindness domino without actually having physically done anything, just by changing your mind.
You can also be a kindness domino as you help those in need around you, or carry out small acts of kindness throughout your day. And I can guarantee that with each kind act you do, even those that seem simple and almost insignificant to you, many other dominos will fall and you’ll never even know.
The repercussions of each act of kindness travel far and wide; multiple lives can be touched from what started as a simple heartfelt compliment, or a small helping hand, or even for the price of a cup of coffee.
Every day of our lives gives us numerous opportunities to be the first domino. Please don’t underestimate how many dominos fall after you help someone out.
We each make positive waves in the world every day! We just generally don’t notice. So take a breath, straighten yourself up, then go out and change the world.
If you’d like to learn more about Spirit Aid Foundation, or even make a donation to help with the humanitarian work, then please visit the website, www.spiritaid.org.uk Spirit Aid commits 100% of all donations to humanitarian aid.
Copyright 2013 David R. Hamilton PhD.