How did we get so mean?
I've been thinking about this a lot lately. Recently, I watched an audience member at a book signing rudely disagree with the author during her lecture and storm out. I saw a customer at a restaurant demand to speak to the manager because her favorite seasonal soup was no longer available. I see it in stores, online, at sporting events and in the workplace.
Just how did we get so mean and how do we change it? Or rather than mean, is it just that we are more self-absorbed? I brought this idea up to a friend the other day and he shared a different perspective-that rather than intentionally being mean, maybe people are just a little too wrapped up in themselves these days.
Perhaps meanness is a protective cloak, an outward display of inside fear. And maybe self-absorption is a product of a fast paced society where we struggle to maintain our own authentic self and unique identity. Whatever the reason, I think it's time to shed the layers. We need to both practice and seek out acts of kindness.
I won't sit in my glass house and profess that I've never uttered a mean word or had missteps on kindness. Not true, and I would be delusional to believe that. And I don't always agree with the opinions, thoughts and actions of others. But I try my best to temper this Italian passion and be respectful and kind. Because I have to believe a little more joy and kindness would serve us well. I just can't accept that we would continue to get meaner. Just. Can't. Accept.
So I went on a quest to find the research and science on kindness. Plenty of research exists, though more is underway. An article published in Newsweek earlier this year highlighted how compassion and kindness can improve the workplace. Stanford University's Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education (CCARE), partially funded by the Dalai Lama, sets out to utilize the expertise in the fields of neuroscience and psychology to discover more about compassion, empathy and altruism.
A recent study also shows the positive effect that kindness and compassion can have on individuals -- namely, that kindness and altruism can make you happy. Researchers with Harvard Business School and the University of British Columbia found that when people did kind acts for others, they experienced increased levels of happiness. As reported out by the Greater Good Science Center, that happiness in turn led to increased acts of kindness, thus suggesting "a kind of 'positive feedback loop' between kindness and happiness, [sic], so that one encourages the other."
I'm not a psychologist but this research just makes a whole bunch of sense to me. Think about when someone does something nice for you or says a kind word. Or when you've had a tough day at work, or got in a fight with your significant other. That little extra kindness at the deli counter, the subway or the grocery store really does work. Don't you feel better, just plain and simple? Just doing research on this topic made me want to be kinder to those I encountered at the ballpark, the subway, work, and elsewhere.
So I started thinking about the kindness I can exude, and the idea of "authentic kindness." An article written in Psychology Today in 2012 referenced authentic kindness as a "a decision to respond to the needs of others, rather than a compulsion to act good. You appreciate first-hand what it feels like to suffer and to need the kindness of a loved one or stranger." While I don't disagree with this, I think my own definition of "authentic kindness" lies somewhere along the lines of "show up as yourself." Because when you are kind in your own way, I think the authenticity resonates even stronger with the receiver.
I don't have any grand epiphanies on how we can turn the tide on a global, massive scale. I think it has to be grass roots, a kind of butterfly effect to make a difference. It has to be small acts that catch on and feel authentic and meaningful -- both to the giver as well as to the receiver. These are not new thoughts, but rather thoughts that are worth repeating.
So find your kindness calling, and make it authentic to you. It doesn't have to cost any money, nor take a lot of time. Say a nice word to the cashier. Smile at the bus driver. Practice Random Acts of Kindness. Pimp your Joy. Start a Kindness Revolution. Pay it Forward. These are just a sampling of resources that can provide ideas. You can go big or small. But find something authentic to you. Because that authenticity will show through. Everyone has struggles and we all gotta rely on each other. Make it your own mission to spread a little authentic kindness and joy. Along the way, you might just make yourself a little happier too.
Follow Rachel Verlik on Twitter: www.twitter.com/RachelVerlik