The word came up in two conversations on the same day. Whenever that kind of repetition happens, I try to stop and pay attention.
The first was a conversation with a colleague. She’d had an uncomfortable interaction with a client who was dissatisfied. The nature of the dissatisfaction was minor, and it wasn’t the result of anything she did wrong. Just one of those mishaps that happen in business and life, and she’d promised to make it right.
All good, right? Wrong. The client either didn’t care or couldn’t listen. Because rather than work together to resolve the situation, she continued to rant.
“I think what most disappoints me is her demeanor,” she told me. “I just wish she would’ve been kind.”
In other words, what hurt most wasn’t the mistake or even her dissatisfaction. What really stung was the fact that she couldn’t show even a smidgen of kindness when talking about it — like pouring lemon juice on a paper cut.
I nodded, understanding her hurt. I can handle feedback, even the occasional criticism. But a lack of basic human dignity and kindness? That does me in.
Later that same day, I received a message from a woman who read my book, Undone. In the pages, I talk about challenges in marriage and the hard years parenting our teenage boys. In response, she said this:
“It’s amazing how you’re so truthful about everything in such a nice way.” In other words, she noticed kindness.
Although I enjoyed a moment of satisfaction at her affirmation, it was quickly eclipsed by my memory of how many times I had not been kind while parenting. In fact, just the night before, I’d launched into my own rant toward a pint-sized family member who had been rude and disrespectful.
My hurt was valid. But was I kind? Nope. Not even a smidgen.
While kindness can, at times, be associated with weakness and meekness, it is anything but. In fact, it often requires extraordinary strength and courage to show kindness, especially to those who don’t deserve it. And let’s be clear: not a one of us “deserves” it all the time.
Kindness is the quality of being considerate, generous, warm, gentle. It’s being soft when the person across from you is hard, warm when she’s cold, full of refreshment when she has nothing to give. Kindness isn’t fair, just, or equal. Rather than reflecting the character of the recipient, it speaks volumes about the giver.
The Kindness Factor is the one light your life can’t live without. For those of us who have been loved by Jesus, we have no option but to love as He loved us. And His love is always wrapped up in kindness. He offers it to thieves, liars, and rebels, as well as the rude, offensive, and arrogant. In other words, every single one of us.
I led them with cords of human kindness, with ties of love. To them I was like one who lifts a little child to the cheek, and I bent down to feed them.
Hosea 11:4 (NIV)
So how do we stay kind in our day-to-day lives? How do we love like Jesus? These five practices can help:
1. Forgive. Unforgiveness eats kindness like fire eats wood. Douse it quickly before it wrecks every bit of your life. Keep short accounts. Let grievances go. Choose to be someone who is not easily offended.
2. Notice. It’s easy to slip into self-consumption, so wrapped up in our own life drama we fail to see the dramas playing out around us. Stop. Notice the faces right in front of you. Make eye contact. Ask questions. And listen. Leadership expert John Maxwell has said that he never leaves a conversation without adding value to the person he’s talking to. That’s a pretty amazing Kindness Practice.
3. Pause. Although I’m working on it, I’ve yet to learn the art of a well-placed pause. There are few things more powerful in a hard conversation than a pause and a deep breath before responding. When we pause, our bodies and brains have time to choose a kind response and not a reactive one.
4. Smile. There’s no shortage of research on the physiological and relational benefits of smiling. In short, smiling is good for you and everyone else. It’s contagious in the best possible way. When you choose to smile, even when you don’t feel like it, your body changes, which in turn changes your mood and capacity for kindness.
5. Celebrate. Find reasons to celebrate your friends, their successes, and even yourself. Make mini-celebrations part of every day by affirming what is good and beautiful and noble in your life and in the lives of others. Celebrate the gift of your life and the people who fill it. That, too, is a kindness.
Rather than try to master all five at once, pick one. Practice it for one full week. Then, circle back around and let us know how increasing your Kindness Factor shined a little extra light to your corner of the world. I’m confident that not only will those around you notice the difference, but your own heart will feel a bit brighter in the process.
Kindness isn’t fair, just, or equal. Rather than reflecting the character of the recipient, it speaks volumes about the giver. -@MicheleCushatt: Click To Tweet