I think most everyone would wish to be kinder than they are. (Sometimes it’s the people who already are very kind who are most distressed by their lapses in kindness.) Today I postulate that the main enemy of kindness is stress. Before I explain let me focus on features of kindness.
Kindness towards others is demonstrated by behaviors that communicate friendliness, generosity, affection, warmth, and concern. It involves the ability to consider another person’s perspective and act to meet that person’s needs. The person towards whom kindness is extended comes to believe that the kind person is trust-worthy and that their behavior has no ulterior motives. They come to believe that they will not be betrayed or taken advantage of. They can let their guard down.
Note the following terms: generous, considerate, and able to take another person’s perspective. These capacities presuppose that the kind person has a fund of internal resources, including of positive emotion, that they can spend to focus on the bigger picture and to meet another person’s needs. Conversely, a person who is depleted will either communicate a lack of kindness or frank unkindness. That person is likely to be hunkered down simply trying to survive and suffer through their own dilemmas and challenges. A person under stress has a narrowing of their perspective onto meeting their own basics of safety and survival. Another person’s needs are the least of their worries.
If you ever find yourself being uncharacteristically unkind that is a good indication you are under stress. Stress is borne from experiencing a gap between your perception of what the world demands from you and your ability to meet those demands. Here are some stress-inducing “gaps:”
- Time gap: gap between your ability to complete all the tasks you’ve been assigned (or assigned yourself) and the time you have available.
- Control gap: gap between what you feel responsible for and your perceived level of control.
- Competence gap: gap between the complexity of problems you face (whether personal or professional) and the level of knowledge and skill you believe yourself to have.
- Expectation gap: gap between what you expect out of your life or some aspect of it and what you’re getting, and usually related to repeated efforts to meet the expectation and falling short.
To become more consistently kind, focus on decreasing your stress. Review the types of “stress gaps” that may be playing out in your life. Start with the ones I mentioned above and consider other types I haven’t mentioned.
The process of reviewing your sources of stress is not easy, but I cannot stress enough that the most important step in solving a problem is in defining in detail the nature of that problem. For instance, you may identify that your main stress is related to your Time Gap. Go further and consider which activities are most contributing to your “time hunger.” It may turn out that you’re spending way too much time on charting. Knowing this provides you with a focused solution. Solving your “stress problem” now becomes straight-forward, although not easy: take better notes faster. The defined problem naturally leads you to a solution. Start investigating and practicing better note-taking.
One more point: a person who has been under stress chronically can develop habits of thinking and behavior that perpetuates a lack of kindness or frank unkindness. Once the veil of stress has lifted, it may take additional efforts to look up and out, to start considering the bigger picture: one’s future, one’s loved ones and others. This is a good month to begin.
Until next time.
“People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered. Love them anyway.”
Kent M. Keith
“Indifference and neglect often do much more damage than outright dislike.”
J. K. Rowling
“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”