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Doubling Down on Kindness
(in an Unkind World)

Two hands stretching and the title "Responding to Unkindness with Kindness"
Hacking HR Team

Posted on November 15, 2023

The world sometimes feels as a very unkind place. Life is already hard enough, and unkindness only makes it even harder. We turn on the news and it seems that everything is negative: wars, discrimination, hate, polarization, bigotry, strife, division, and aggression. And the question I constantly ask myself is: where do hate and division end? Until all of us kill each other? Or until each of us starts responding to unkindness with more kindness?

I do not know about you, but I would rather not choose “an eye for an eye” and repay unkindness with more unkindness. We already know how that all ends: unkindness begets unkindness which begets more hate and division. As hard and extremely challenging as it is, I choose kindness over unkindness.

“In a world where you can be anything, be kind”: definitely easier said than done. To realize that principle we intentionally must choose to fight our own demons, our instincts to respond to fire with fire, to hate with hate, to unkindness with unkindness; and we intentionally must choose to override our instinct to react, and instead pause and response with kindness not in kind.

Today is World Kindness Day. This day invites us to reflect on the transformative power of one of humanity's most underrated, yet powerful virtues: kindness.

The Unkind World

Every day, our senses are bombarded with stories of conflict, injustice, and cruelty. From the divisive tones in political arenas to the horrors of war and terrorism to the impersonal interactions on social media, the threads of unkindness seem to weave deep through the fabric of our society. Sadly, it seems as if unkindness became the normal and not the exception. This constant exposure to negative behavior not only affects our mood but also colors our view of the world, often leading to a cycle of pessimism and negativity.

In these turbulent times, kindness is not just a moral choice; it is a necessity. Kindness is the beacon of hope and light to guide us in the direction to our shared humanity. Kindness has the power to dissolve barriers of misunderstanding, heal wounds of division, and foster an environment of mutual respect and empathy. Kindness is the language that communicates across all divides, offering a path to peace and understanding in a world that increasingly feels more and more unkind.

Kindness Works

Kindness works. Kindness is powerful. Kindness is the proper response to unkindness. Kindness is the way to heal.

And this not hearsay or hippy thinking, it is science.

These are some of the benefits of kindness:

  • Increases Happiness: Performing acts of kindness releases endorphins, producing the natural high known as 'helper's high'.

  • Boosts Heart Health: Kindness has been shown to release oxytocin, which reduces blood pressure and therefore is good for the heart.

  • Enhances Longevity: Studies suggest that regular volunteers have a lower mortality rate than those who do not volunteer.

  • Reduces Stress: Engaging in acts of kindness can decrease stress and contribute to enhanced mental health.

  • Improves Relationships: Kindness fosters connection and trust, crucial elements in all relationships.

  • Promotes Mental Health: It can reduce the symptoms of depression and anxiety, and increase feelings of self-worth.

  • Strengthens the Immune System: Positive emotions from being kind can boost the immune system.

  • Decreases Pain: Acts of kindness are linked to the release of dopamine, a natural painkiller.

  • Enhances Emotional Well-being: Regular acts of kindness can lead to increased feelings of contentment.

  • Inspires More Kindness: Kindness is contagious. Observing acts of kindness can motivate others to act kindly too.

Responding Kindly Not in Kind: Paying Unkindness with Kindness

When faced with unkind behavior, our instinctual response is often to retaliate in kind.

This reaction, though understandable, can escalate the situation and perpetuate a cycle of negativity. Responding to unkindness with more unkindness can create a toxic environment, whether in personal relationships, workplaces, or online communities. It fosters feelings of anger, resentment, and bitterness, not just between the people directly involved but also within the wider group observing these interactions. It has been scientifically proven that kindness benefits the recipient as much as the giver and the observer of the act of kindness. And the opposite is true, unkindness negatively impacts everyone involved: the unkind person, the receiver of the unkindness and those observing or witnessing these unkind interactions.

This negativity can be draining emotionally and mentally, leading to a pervasive sense of hostility and mistrust. In extreme cases, it can even lead to ongoing conflicts, where the original cause of the unkindness is overshadowed by a continuous exchange of hurtful actions or words.

On the other hand, responding to unkindness with kindness has the potential to de-escalate conflict and transform interactions.

Responding to unkindness with kindness does not mean ignoring the unkind behavior or allowing oneself to be mistreated; rather, it involves addressing the situation with empathy, understanding, and respect.

12 Ways of Responding to Unkindness with Kindness

When we respond kindly to unkindness instead of in kind, we model positive behavior and set a tone of civility and respect. This can be disarming and often prompts the other person to reconsider their approach. Moreover, this approach can positively affect bystanders who witness these acts of kindness. It can inspire others to act similarly, fostering a more supportive and empathetic community.

Responding with kindness in the face of unkindness is not just beneficial for the immediate situation; it can have long-lasting effects. It encourages a culture of understanding and tolerance, teaches valuable lessons about emotional intelligence, and can even lead to better mental and emotional well-being for everyone involved. By choosing kindness, we contribute to a more positive and harmonious environment, breaking the cycle of negativity and opening up possibilities for constructive dialogue and reconciliation.

On a pink background is a purple banner on the top center, showing the title "12 ways to respond to unkindness with kindness." Below are twelve boxes with the following texts: Understand the Source; Maintain Composure; Take a Deep Breath; Practice Active Listening; Respond with Empathy; Use Positive Language; Set Boundaries; Seek Common Ground; Offer help; Do not Retaliate;  Practice Forgiveness; Reflect and Learn. Below is the Hacking HR logo.

This is how you can respond to unkindness with kindness:

  • Understand the Source: Often, unkind behavior stems from the other person's own struggles or insecurities. Understanding this can help you respond with empathy.

  • Maintain Composure: It is essential to stay calm and not to take unkind behavior personally. This allows you to respond thoughtfully rather than react emotionally.

  • Take a Deep Breath: Before responding, take a moment to breathe deeply, which can help in regaining composure.

  • Practice Active Listening: Try to understand the other person’s point of view without immediately jumping to conclusions.

  • Respond with Empathy: Show understanding and compassion, even if you disagree with the other person.

  • Use Positive Language: Avoid negative words and focus on constructive, positive communication.

  • Set Boundaries: Kindness does not mean tolerating abuse or disrespect. Set clear boundaries when necessary.

  • Seek Common Ground: Try to find areas of agreement or shared interests as a foundation for positive interaction.

  • Offer a Helping Hand: Sometimes, unkind behavior is a cry for help. Helping can be a powerful response.

  • Do not Retaliate: Avoid the temptation to respond in kind. Retaliation only perpetuates the cycle of unkindness.

  • Practice Forgiveness: Holding onto anger or resentment harms you more than it affects the other person. Forgiveness can be liberating.

  • Reflect and Learn: After the interaction, reflect on what happened and consider ways to improve future responses.

Amplifying Kindness: Strategies for a Positive Change

These are some strategies to amplify kindness in the world:

  • Embrace Empathy: Actively try to understand others' feelings and perspectives. This promotes tolerance and compassion.

  • Practice Active Listening: Listen with the intent to understand, not just to reply. This validates others and encourages open communication.

  • Perform Random Acts of Kindness: Engage in small, spontaneous acts of kindness. These could range from helping a neighbor to volunteering in community services.

  • Spread Positivity on Social Media: Use your online platforms to share inspiring stories and positive messages, creating a counterbalance to the prevalent negativity.

  • Educate and Advocate: Teach others about the importance of kindness and stand against any form of unkindness, whether in person or online.

  • Express Gratitude: Regularly acknowledge and thank people in your life. Gratitude is a powerful form of kindness.

  • Offer Compliments Generously: A simple, sincere compliment can make someone's day and boost their self-esteem.

  • Practice Self-care: Being kind to yourself is crucial. It replenishes your capacity to be kind to others.

  • Show Forgiveness: Letting go of grudges and forgiving can be a profound act of kindness, both for yourself and others.

Let Us Do It: Moving Forward

In an unkind world, doubling down on kindness is not just an act of rebellion against the “new unkindness normal;” it is a commitment to creating a better, more empathetic society for us, them, this and future generations.

On World Kindness Day, let us amplify our acts of kindness, not just in grand gestures but in everyday interactions. By doing so, we not only enrich our own lives but also light the way for others in a world that desperately needs more kindness and less hate and division. Remember, every act of kindness, no matter how small, has the potential to make a significant impact. Every act of kindness begets dozens if not hundreds more acts of kindness. Let us be the first ones to ignite kindness in the world.

Spread Kindness

Download our Hacking HR's "A Practical and Comprehensive Guide To Kindness in the Workplace," and start spreading kindness everywhere!

On a bright pink background the Hacking HR logo is on top center and below the title "A Practical Guide To Kindness in the Workplace." Below is a figure surrounder by colored rays of light.

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