When you travel a lot, or live in different countries, you have no choice at times but to rely on new people. I remember travelling in New York when someone kindly pointed out to me that studying a NY map on the subway isn’t the most sensible thing to do. I remember being given chicken, rice and freshly picked bananas in Thailand when I arrived so hungry from a long journey. When we moved to the Netherlands three years ago, there were a few people who approached us and warmly welcomed us into their group. Being included, receiving that phone call and being asked to join is kindness I will never forget. It makes the world go around. And now whilst I am promoting a book for the first time, it isn’t the marketing machine behind the venture that makes the difference, but the kind interest of people and their willingness to support and share.
For over 25 years I have operated in the worlds of personal and professional development. It’s been a true pleasure to work with people and take them on a journey from “A” beginning to a better “B”: an improved version of themselves. Whatever the learning journey was, it’s fraught with tricky challenges. A process of three steps forward and two back, whilst people break through old barriers, overcome obstacles and win a few inches that will alter the trajectory of their lives. On the whole people are interested in progress, measurable results and visible targets. But in the dispersed world of today I believe that the true and immeasurable power of kindness is hugely undervalued.
Most have been conditioned by a world of one-upmanship and left-brain target hitting. A world in which we need to portray a hard and business-like exterior, whilst having a single-minded focus on profit. Kindness might appear to be a wet lettuce leaf in that environment. In actual fact, despite all the big words and grown up business importance, the essence of business is that people buy from people. Not only that, a pure focus on profit misses the point these days. This is a world where most relationships start online, where communities collaborate across borders and where doing good or going the extra mile is not only perceived favourably but is also necessary. Business can be an influential force for change, for saving resources and finding the best solutions. Economics isn’t something that you have for breakfast, chew on and spit out taking from it what you need. This is the era in which thinking beyond ourselves and our generation is crucial for basic survival. Selfishness serves no purpose in that.
Kindness costs nothing and offers everything: a lasting memory, a temporary relief of stress, a human gesture that is levelling in every way. In a high-pressured world, it softens the high stakes and enables people to succeed or fail where necessary. Both are vital for progress. Kindness turns the work environment into a place motivated by generosity instead of being moved by fear. The cogs in the wheel of life turn more smoothly and efficiently when oiled quite simply by kindness.
And how about kindness to self, the most forgotten gesture of all? Armies of people are ready to punish themselves, ready to self-criticise, put oneself down without ever being able to accept a compliment freely or a thank you to self. We want to do better, be slimmer, taller, cleverer without fully appreciating that all that negative feedback is being listened to by every cell in the body. Every day it gets harder to get past the wall of expectations. Performance is so much more fruitful when opportunities flow and are tried on for size, not when you are battered to death by lists of why something cannot happen.
When was the last time you were truly kind to yourself, kind to someone else without counting the cost? Doing something for the sake of it, because it made another person’s day that much easier or put a smile on their face? Whether in business or in life, let kindness be your buoy. The world is hard enough and we can singlehandedly make it all so much more human by dropping the pretence. Kindness contains a secret multiplier. Kindness given multiplies kindness in the world of which you will receive a big part in return over time. Give freely, kindness cost nothing at all but makes you rich.