Why Being a Little Kinder Is Good for Everybody
After 45 years of study, Aldous Huxley concluded, “It is a bit embarrassing to have been concerned with the human problem all one’s life and find that one has no more to offer by way of advice than ‘try to be a little kinder.’” But maybe Huxley was selling himself short. Research shows that being kind is good for your health and well-being and can even help alleviate symptoms of anxiety and depression (Cregg and Cheavens, 2023). Being kind or just plain polite can also avoid needless symmetrical escalation. A fistfight or gun battle over a parking space, or an airline passenger verbally or physically assaulting a flight attendant, was once unheard of, but these events now barely raise an eyebrow.
As kindness and courtesy do seem to be in short supply, here are four tips for making the day go a little better for everyone.
- Begin emails with a brief three-to-five-word greeting. These are salutations at the top of your message: “Good morning.” “G’Day!” It takes three seconds but it courteously communicates that you see the recipient as a real person. Being pleasant in our everyday social communications and connections doesn’t cost a thing, but can make someone else’s day a little easier.
- Graciously apologize. When you and someone else bump into each other at the grocery store or coffee shop, even if you think the other person could have been a little more careful or considerate, you can say “Oh, sorry about that.” It’s courteous. Of course, if that other person goes ballistic and says, “Why are you talking to me?! Are we going to have a problem here?” It’s okay to reply: “Bless your heart. You’re clearly upset. Perhaps you’d like to speak to the manager?” Being kind and thoughtful doesn’t mean one has to placate, people-please, or be a doormat when a person has an ongoing grievance with the world. Be succinct and polite, but do not participate in any unwanted shenanigans.
- Politely ending conversations. When someone is talking about something you do not care a fig about, you can still nod and say one of my Dad’s favorite responses: “Is that right?” Dad said it like he really meant it, and most of the time he really did, but it was something he’d offer when someone was particularly long-winded on the telephone at night when he was off the clock and this could have been discussed at the office in the morning. If you are looking at the exits during a person’s long monologue, you can try changing the subject. If that doesn’t work, you can say, “I appreciate how you feel strongly about this. I have something I have to attend to right now, but we can continue discussing this another time.” Wish them a good day or good night. Someone else’s self-absorption or rudeness doesn’t have to be mirrored by our own.
- Aim for an act of kindness every day. It can be something as simple (and free) such as giving up your seat on the bus or the train, or just smiling. It’s good for you, and it’s good for others to broadcast warmth and a willingness to be socially engaged, even without words.
These days it can feel “hard to be soft, tough to be tender,” as the band Metric sang. But kindness costs nothing and is beneficial to you and others, so give it a try.