Kindness Counts

5 May
Seeking_human_kindness, by Enver Rahmanov

Seeking_human_kindness, by Enver Rahmanov

George Saunders’ 2013 commencement address to Syracuse University students wasn’t on innovation, or failure, or continuous learning.  It was on kindness.

In the speech, Saunders tells graduates, “What I regret most in my life are failures of kindness.”  Saunders shares how he doesn’t regret his time working terrible jobs, sicknesses, or even past humiliations, what he regrets are the times he could have reached out and helped another human, and he stood back instead.  Not that he was actively cruel, he just wasn’t as kind as he could have been.

Even as Saunders exhorts graduates to be kind, he acknowledges the challenge.  He tells them, “…kindness, it turns out, is hard — it starts out all rainbows and puppy dogs, and expands to include . . . well, everything.”

Saunders’ speech is an eloquent reminder of what we know–relationships with people matter, more than material objects.  His ideas are echoed in what parents care about most for their children.  The New York Times article, Raising a Moral Child revealed that

We’re much more concerned about our children becoming kind, compassionate and helpful. Surveys reveal that in the United States, parents from European, Asian, Hispanic and African ethnic groups all place far greater importance on caring than achievement. These patterns hold around the world: When people in 50 countries were asked to report their guiding principles in life, the value that mattered most was not achievement, but caring.

Kindness is also creeping into the workplace.  Larry Page, who founded Google with a culture of aggression and verbal battles to solve problems, told his top executives in 2013 that Google would never reach its goals if the people in that room did not stop fighting with one another. From now on, Google would have “zero tolerance for fighting.”  Google executives would need to learn to work together to solve problems if they were going to solve problems in as of yet unimagined ways.*  Page, after maturing and having a family of his own, realized that collaboration could be more productive than competition.

Research also suggests that kindness not only helps the receiver, but it positively impacts the giver as well.  Research by the University of British Columbia and the University of California, Riverside, found that when preteens engaged in three acts of kindness per week, they not only gained more friends, but felt significantly happier and more satisfied.

For humans, who survive in part through our social behavior, kindness is innate.  But it can also be fostered.  The Random Acts of Kindness Foundation has curriculum and resources for parents and schools that want to promote kindness in their students.  Schools can also submit videos of their kindness projects.  Check out this school from Fresno, California:

We live in a fast-paced and competitive world, and kindness can be kicked to the curb in the rush to get things done, to succeed, to be-the-best.  But that would ultimately be less satisfying, less successful, and less inspiring than had we been kind.  So in the words of Saunders, Try to be kinder…so that…when you’re 100 and I’m 134, and we’re both so kind and loving we’re nearly unbearable, drop me a line, let me know how your life has been. I hope you will say: It has been so wonderful.


*from The Untold Story Of Larry Page’s Incredible Comeback, by Nicholas Carlson, in The Business Insider


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