THE BLOG

Why Kindness Is So Important

08/01/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

"I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel." -- Maya Angelou

I like that quote because it reminds me that it is how I go about my day that is more important than what I do. If you think of the billions of people on the planet doing something daily - whether that be obtaining enough food for survival or running a billion dollar corporation - they have a single thread in common, how they treat themselves and others.

We can relate to others from positions of anger, greed, and hatred or from kindness and compassion. Becoming aware of how you treat yourself is key to seeing how you relate to others. I have a friend who abhors selfishness. Because of this deeply entrenched idea, she gives and gives and gives to others and never cares for herself. And she finds herself unhappy, unsatisfied, and uncertain in life.

Our culture seems to thrive on extremes. Many of us are either overly selfish or overly selfless. In either case, there is a failure to appreciate the equality of self and others. For those too selfless, attention to caring for oneself may be needed; for those too selfish, caring for others. Kindness cannot be directed toward one and withheld from the other without hazardous outcomes.

Notice sometimes how you talk to yourself. Do you berate yourself in ways you would never do so to a friend, or other human being for that matter? Are you highly self-critical? If so, give yourself a little kindness, nurturing, and care. There are many acts of kindness you can direct toward yourself, from taking a guilt-free day off from work to soaking in a bathtub or taking a walk in nature. It takes time to change our attitudes toward ourselves and others, but it begins by becoming aware of your feelings and thoughts toward self and others. Just notice how you relate to yourself and others throughout the day - is it with kindness or not?

Much of the time, we forget this important thread, that how we relate to ourselves and others is much more important than the things we do. Much of the time we hurry through activities so focused on the outcome that the interactions along the way - the barrista at Starbucks, the receptionist at the front office, a spouse, a child or boss - are often ignored.

If we can learn to give our full attention to how we treat ourselves and others, perhaps we will find that the outcomes we so clearly seek are less important than the road we travel along the way.

How often have you discovered a moment of true happiness in a brief encounter with a taxi driver, a grocery clerk, a person waiting in a doctor's office, or some other seemingly insignificant encounter in life? Remember these and begin to notice that the elaborate net of life has a single underlying thread, our shared humanity and the potential for kindness in every encounter.