Examples of kindness in the midst of a pandemic abound: neighbors and friends who offer to pick things up at the store, Americans checking in on each other and especially on older adults, and the extraordinary courage and kindness of health care workers who show up every day knowing that their jobs put them at risk, a risk not only for themselves but for those whom they love.
That, indeed, is kindness. Social distancing is an act of kindness.
Sure, you do it for yourself and those you love. But you also do it for others.
What is it about humans that causes us to reach out when a disaster hits?
Stories abound about brave Texans helping one another during last week’s frigid weather. Tornadoes, hurricanes, fires, floods: tragedies bring us together.
Our human make-up includes empathy and, for most, a wish to reach out.
Kindness, like gratitude and perspective, is a major pillar of well-being. It is as important as movement is to our health.
And it means so much more when we appreciate and savor it like a delicious meal. We need it. When we don’t receive it, we suffer. When absent, we run the risk of becoming open to loneliness and harmful self-talk. We are social animals. Touch, warmth, and giving are essential to our well-being. We feel alive when we receive these elements of kindness and we feel rewarded when we give it to others.
The coronavirus has caused us all to turn inward, examining our values and our actions. We have become hypersensitive to our daily behaviors as we navigate this fearful time. We make choices carefully to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe. In this setting, one of the most simple but powerful practices that we can take is to ramp up simple acts of kindness.
I once took an elective on happiness and well-being.
While most of the tasks assigned were a solid waste of time, there was one I’ll never forget.
“Give and record five new acts of kindness every day for one week” was one of the most surprising assignments for us students.
Some believed the exercise to be silly and unnecessary. Virtually everyone believes they are kind and already do kind things daily.
The assignment required us to raise our awareness and creativity. The word “new,” meaning beyond your normal behavior, is critical.
We all become accustomed to our daily patterns and make assumptions about our behaviors that are not always accurate.
While it may be true that most of us are kind, we may overestimate how often we are kind.
What happened when we worked on this assignment is that no matter what our current state of happiness, we got a bump from an increase in our awareness of acts of happiness and enjoyment in the experience.
Additionally, and very importantly, we felt better about ourselves.
We probably would not have put it this way, but we were, in a small way, gaining a sense of empowerment.
On the other end of giving are those who receive kindness. They usually feel a sense of appreciation, gratitude and connection. They are being fed as social animals the very food we all crave, kindness.
In this unprecedented time, being kind should be near the top of our list of things to do. And, in our situation of social distancing, we should begin at home, where the stress of confinement may be taking a toll. Those who are alone can reach out to others and likely be welcomed. Five new acts of kindness beyond your normal level every day for one week is an interesting place to start.
Christina Pierce is the publisher at Hattiesburg Publishing, which produces The Pine Belt News and Signature Magazine.