As you move through your day, waking up to turn on the news, stopping by your favorite coffee shop, riding the train to work, the way people interact with each other could easily lead you to believe that the bar for good behavior is lower than ever. Disagreement is expected. Conflict is the norm. Selfishness is de rigueur.
Over the past few years, the tenor of our discourse has changed. The more negativity we’re exposed to, the more I fear the constant barrage of humanity’s flaws has desensitized us.
Some, rightfully disappointed by how we treat each other, isolate to protect themselves. Others direct their energy to what they can actually do rather than worrying about what they can’t control. Some believe the solution is tuning out the news, to disengage by ignoring what’s happening.
Unfortunately, disregarding problems doesn’t solve them. There is something every person can do every day, though. I have another headline we should add to the news ticker: The world is starving for compassion.
Kindness isn't a finite resource
From what I see, kindness is no longer considered the measure of a good person. You’re judged by how “not rude” you are. Holding the door was once a societal standard of consideration and politeness. Now, you probably feel relieved if the person in front of you doesn’t let the door slam in your face.
A few months ago, after speaking at a university, I got onto the elevator at the same time as a student wearing headphones. Right away, I noticed his great smile and positive energy. I could have stood quietly in the back of the elevator looking at my phone. Instead, I decided to get his attention and compliment him. At first, he looked a little confused at being interrupted. After hearing what I had to say, you would have thought he won the lottery. Before parting ways, we stopped to chat for a moment in the lobby. As he turned to leave, he thanked me. When I asked what for, he said simply, “I just kind of needed that.” Maybe he hadn't heard something nice about himself or felt seen in a while. Either way, he walked away from our interaction just a little bit happier.
That conversation cost me nothing, while my elevator companion received something incredibly valuable to him. Kindness isn’t a finite resource. There’s not a limited amount that needs to be hoarded and doled out carefully. Compassion can be freely given.
The impact of empathy
Showing kindness has the power to improve more than a person’s day. One moment of empathy can change someone’s life.
You might remember this story from a few years ago. An 18-year-old attempted to shoplift a dress shirt, tie, and socks from a store. Sounds like a delinquent who should be arrested immediately, right? Except when police arrived to investigate, the truth came out. The teenager’s father had recently taken ill, and the family was struggling financially. He needed clothes to wear to a job interview but didn’t have the money to pay. He was trying to help his family and made a bad decision.
Moved by these circumstances, one of the officers bought the outfit for him. The young man was released without charge, wore the clothing to the interview, and got the job.
This is just one of many stories that prove you can get a lot back when you give even a little. Generosity doesn’t only benefit the receiver. When you help others, you help yourself, too.
Don’t miss your chance
The benefits of compassion are often overlooked because we make excuses. You might think you don’t have time or energy to give, or maybe you simply don’t have extra money to donate. As truthful as these excuses may be for you, not giving to others means missing the life-giving opportunity to brighten someone’s world.
When you show kindness, you don’t just help someone have a better day. These gestures can transform lives. Author Leo Buscaglia said, “Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.”
In a world that seems out of control, ‘tis the season for compassion. Say something positive. Make a small effort. Pay kindness forward. You don’t have to write a check, you don’t even have to spend any extra time, just treat the people you interact with the way you want to be treated.
Right now, you probably feel like the world is limping along with the bare minimum of empathy and kindness. I know this isn’t our final evolution, though. We can make a difference if we commit to compassion.