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Understanding the virtues of kindness

Understanding the virtues of kindness

Understanding the virtues of kindness

At a time when people are suffering from the damaging affects of fear and hate, MiNDFOOD talks to experts on the virtues of kindness.

World Kindness Australia Chairman Michael Lloyd-White is no angel – this big bear of a man is just as likely to break up a fight in a pub such as the one in which he is lunching, as he is to give you a hug. But he is adamant he doesn’t lose his cool in traffic.

For Lloyd-White, kindness is a simple concept that cuts deep, and where breaking up a pub fight is just as important as the hug. “Kindness is doing something you don’t really want to do that is going to benefit someone else,” he says. “Kindness turns on your radar and you start to notice things. That people have fallen between the cracks. Not being mean does not mean you are being kind. It is about making a conscious decision and asking yourself ‘what is the kinder option?’”

According to the Oxford dictionary, kindness is “the quality of being friendly, generous and considerate”. The British Journal of Social Psychology has published evidence showing that those who performed a daily act of kindness experienced a “significant” boost in happiness, compared to those who did nothing kind, while a separate study suggests that altruistic people are most attractive to the opposite sex.

It was the Japanese who decided to implement a national kindness campaign in 1963 to promote its tourism industry and combat a negative global perception still lingering from World War II.

In 1997, following the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) meeting in Tokyo, one of the key outcomes was to form a Coalition of The Good Willing among which Australia was one of 16 countries to sign a declaration to form a World Kindness Movement (WKM). In 2000, Singapore took over from Japan in running the WKM.

Back in Australia in the early 2000s Lloyd-White was, by his own admission, “just a dad” who disliked bullying he was witnessing in schools. He approached the New South Wales State Education Minister to speak about the concept of  “Goodwill Ambassadors” and also met with then NSW Governor Marie Bashir in a bid to put the concept of kindness on the national agenda.

Singapore learned of what Lloyd-White was doing and asked him to host the next WKM General Assembly in Australia in 2010. Two years later, in London, Australia became the secretariat to the movement and established the not-for-profit organisation World Kindness Australia.

“When I started this it was about making sure my kids got to high school and were not cast in the mean girl culture,” Lloyd-White says. “We got elected on a strategic plan to change the world. The challenge today is that governments and people do things that are popular more than things that are right. The traditional messaging around kindness is about sugar, and spice and all things nice and it’s not that. Women seem to associate more with kindness where men see it as a weakness. Our culture has become toxic.”

But Lloyd-White is quick to point out that kindness is neither a feminine or masculine trait – rather, it is a human one.

These days, there are 28 nations around the world, including China, who are part of the WKM who are bound by Kindness Performance Indicators, or KPIs, and a Kindness Constitution. Under the Constitution, the primary purpose of government and non-government members is to promote a kindness campaign.

Lloyd-White says it is important that countries like China, who are better known for a less-than-admirable human rights record, are not judged on their past.

“China is not about reflecting back on the past but what we can do about the future. We’ve all made mistakes, whether it is turning back the boats or persecution based on religion,” he says.

“The constitution is primarily about connecting and sharing. Whatever decision we make it is all about choosing the kinder option. It is about bringing some positive change.

“We live in this culture of terror where we think we need to fight fire with fire. We need to fight fire with water. The only thing that inspires people more than fear is courage.

“A real act of kindness takes courage. I can’t think of courage not tempered with kindness. That’s why it inspires us, someone walked over and intervened.”

One of the most inspiring actions to come out of the WKM is the introduction of World Kindness cards, which are linked to Google maps. The concept is based around “paying it forward”: the holder of the card records their story and then hands it on to a random stranger, who in turn records their story online. There are currently thousands of cards circulating around the world with thousands of stories about kindness linked to them.

The Charity

Leigh Rosanoski is Founder and CEO of New Zealand’s Kind Hearts, whose motto is “be kind and make someone’s day”. Originally formed from a one-off post on Facebook, it became a registered charitable trust, with a global vision to help develop “a kinder world”. Among a number of initiatives, Kind Hearts offers biodegradable and compostable pay-it-forward takeaway coffee cups for cafes.

“The more we receive stories of kindness on our Facebook page (Kind Hearts Movement) and in conversations, the more I have discovered that kindness is happening far more than I realised or would know from general media sources,” Rosanoski says.

“We need to talk about it more, honour it more, do it more. Simply do what you can, where you can, and when you can, be kind. Elevate it from unconscious acts you sometimes do, to conscious decisions and actions you most frequently do, so that being kind is your lifestyle, your chosen way of being in our world.”

Health benefits of being kind

Research by the British Journal of Social Psychology has found that those who performed a daily act of kindness experienced a “significant” boost in happiness, compared to those who did nothing kind, while a separate study suggests that altruistic people are most attractive to the opposite sex. According to kindness is not only “teachable” but “contagious” and contains many benefits such as producing the love hormone oxytocin; improving energy and self esteem; decreasing depression, anxiety, stress and blood pressure; and even enhancing life span. Raising Happiness: In Pursuit of Joyful Kids and Happier Parents author Christine Carter found that people aged 55 or older who volunteer for two or more organisations have a 44 per cent lower chance of dying earlier, even after every other potential contributing factor was taken out of the equation. Carter’s research went as far as to state that being kind was even more beneficial than going to church or exercising four times a week.

10 ways in which we can be more kind:

  • Put yourself in the other person’s shoes
  • Give empathy, not sympathy
  • Understand our own needs
  • Exercise self love
  • Meditate/tune into yourself
  • Embrace silence
  • Spend time in nature
  • Express gratitude for yourself and others
  • Connect with others and be really present
  • Silently bless the first 40 living things you see each day
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