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Kindness and Generosity

optimal LIVING • Aristotle group

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While there are many virtues and core values, kindness is one from which many of the others flow. It is a simple yet profound virtue with far-reaching impact. Moments that we most remember are frequently associated with small yet powerful acts of kindness, and our relationships are changed by the caring and compassionate action of others.
 

Kindness / generosity is one of the 24 strengths of character identified in the Handbook of Character Strengths and Virtues by Christopher Peterson and Martin Seligman. It is strength of humanity closely aligned to care, compassion and altruism, all sharing a common orientation of self to others. Kindness and generosity are motivated by a care and concern for others and, by definition, are devoid of assurance of reciprocity, a gain in reputation or other self-benefit.
 

Take a moment to think when kindness or generosity had been extended to you. What was the impact? Now think of a time when you have witnessed acts of kindness or generosity. What was the impact? Finally, think of a time when you have extended kindness or generosity toward others. What was the impact? In each answer, you will likely find that your heart warmed, sometimes strangely and even inexplicably. You now have an indication of the power of kindness. 
 

In his book The Power of Kindness, psychologist Piero Ferrucci asserts that “Kindness might seem lightweight, and yet it is a central factor to our lives. It has the surprising power to transform us, perhaps more than any other attitude or technique.”
 

Kindness and generosity are tied to volunteerism that in the United States now exceeds 20 billion hours of service and $200 billion in charitable contributions per year; a tangible societal benefit of an often otherwise intangible concept. On an individual basis, kindness and generosity has been shown to have a positive impact on health, productivity, longevity and overall life satisfaction.
 

What are the key drivers of kindness and generosity? Three main enabling factors have been identified. When taken together, the trio of empathy, sympathy, and the ability to see another person’s perspective is perhaps the most powerful driver. As we are able to put ourselves “in other’s shoes” the action to take becomes clear. A sense of social responsibility causes some to act while others move on. People high in social responsibility are more likely to render aid at the site of a car accident than those scoring lower in social responsibility. Finally, positive mood is highly correlated to helping behaviors. People who are put into a positive mood show a consistently higher willingness to help others.
 

While the benefits to others are significant, kindness and generosity also generate benefits for the provider. Ralph Waldo Emerson perhaps put it best in saying that “No man can sincerely help another without helping himself.”
 

Science bears this out. Acts of kindness have the ability to reshape our self-image. Being kind can also help in building relationships. Strong relationships are one of the key drivers of happiness and overall life satisfaction.
 

There is a wonderful paradox inherent in kindness and generosity. Only when we care for others in a truly altruistic way do we receive the benefits. In giving of ourselves, we are enriched. “Those who refresh others are themselves refreshed,” Psalm 11:25.
 

Kindness and generosity can help us navigate trying times. While recently traveling in another country and following a frustrating series of flight cancellations, I found myself walking from the airport to find lodging for the night. Stopping at a local store to ask for directions, the first two people I approached were not able to help me. Witnessing this, a young woman came over to me, kindly offered directions, suggested that I take a trolley and then handed me local currency to use on the trolley.
 

This small act of kindness stays with me nearly three months later, especially because it had a ripple effect. I received a phone call from someone back in the U.S. who secured a hotel reservation. The airline agent changed my flights with no additional fee. A colleague delivered my suitcase that had been left in a car earlier in the day. That initial, single act of kindness by a complete stranger who I will never see again seemed to trigger a whole series of events that not only had a tangible effect on my circumstances, but forever changed my memory of this trip and my impression of the city.
 

Difficult circumstances will continue to arise. Pain and periods of suffering are part of the human experience. Kindness and generosity provide a way through and a way out, all with the power to transform our experiences and ourselves in the process.
 

 

Gordon Parry is the President of Aristotle Group, a firm dedicated to helping individuals, teams, and organizations achieve their full potential. In 2005, Gordon was one of 35 students selected globally to complete the first graduate program in the new field of applied positive psychology at the University of Pennsylvania.

gordon.parry@aristotlegroup.net
www.aristotlegroup.net

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