Friday, January 16, 2015

The Kindness Question

A scenario and then a question.

This is what happened:

I discovered, by accident, that sitting on the right side of the WheelTrans bus is warmer than sitting on the left side of the bus. Typically, because I'm picked up very early, I'm first on the bus, so I sit on the left side. This winter has had very cold days and I've had fairly cold rides up to work. There is a heater down by my feet, running alongside the side near the floor, but it doesn't seem to do the job. This may be because it's very early and the bus hasn't warmed up yet and the heater is still shaking off it's own morning cold.

But one day I got on the bus and someone was in that place. I sat then on the right side. Surprise! The heater up front blows warm air back to where I'm sitting and I felt it's warmth the whole ride up to work. I've requested that seat ever since. This morning when I got on the bus, I requested that seat, explaining to the driver that I like to be in front of the heater. He was good about it and strapped down my chair while we chatted about the weather and the cold temperatures that we've been experiencing in Toronto.

Soon after we left, heading to pick someone else up, we stopped at a light. The driver said, 'I've got several heating vents up here, would you like me to turn one back towards you?' I said that that would be nice. He leaned over quite far, turned the vent towards me and we drove off. I had the warmest ride I've ever had in the winter on the bus. By far.

Here's my question:

I often wonder what makes people cruel. Why people do mean things to one another. Why anger is so close to the surface for so many people and in so many interactions. What causes that? These are undoubtedly good questions. But what I've never asked myself, until today, riding on the bus, feeling warm on a cold winter day - what makes people kind? What was there about this guy that spurred him to think of a way to do something nice, spurred him to ask first before just doing it, and then go out of his way, and nearly out of his reach, to make it happen. What spurred him to do something that wouldn't have been noticed if it wasn't done or wasn't offered. What part of  his mind or heart makes doing an act of thoughtful kindness so simple and easy? How did he get this way? What makes people kind?

I notice that there are a lot of people who are doing the 'pay it forward' thing on line. They are going to do 5 acts of random kindness to five people who pledge to do the same. I haven't signed on to this scheme, even though I think the motivation behind it is a good thing. The thing I'm talking about isn't 'pay it forward' because those are intentional acts of kindness - and that's good, I'm not down on that at all, kindness of any kind is a good thing. The difference is what makes it such that someone doesn't need to sign up to be kind they just are. What makes it such that someone's impulse is to kindness? Is there a way to develop or strengthen the impulse to kindness?

I don't know.

But that's who I want to be. It is not who I am, but it's who I want to be. I want kindness not to be a behaviour I perform but, instead, I want kindness to be the way that I live.

This is the kind of thing that goes on in my mind on the way to work in the morning.

So, what do you think? What makes people naturally kind, how do they become that way? Can one develop kindness as a lifestyle?


Anonymous said...

I get the impression that you are! I would guess it is learnt, from having experienced kindness, and seen it displayed by others (social learning) as well as motivated by values and ability to empathise (for example, someone may not act kindly simply because it didnt cross their mind), so I guess a tendency to think about and focus on others would make kindness more likely. Just some thoughts!....Rebecca

Being-a-Possibilityist said...

The same thing that makes someone mean... in response to one of your first questions. Being kind (or cruel) is a choice, unconsciously or consciously. In every moment we have the option to choose how we move forward or respond to someone or some situation. We also have the choice of reflecting on outcomes when we choose thoughts or actions, with outcomes we didn't expect or welcome.

ABEhrhardt said...

I wish I knew, too.

I'm always learning, thinking, trying. But being kind isn't my normal first reaction, it is something I have to work for.

I've accepted that, and keep doing it by willpower, because it's the right thing to do. But I envy those who seem to just BE kind souls.

Ron Arnold said...

^ There's smart folks that visit this blog! (Along with the fellow writing it of course!)

I think it may have something to do with worldview and needs being met / unmet to a certain degree too. I find contented people tend to be kind. I find discontented people to be less so. Contentment has a LOT to do with one's context and how they view it. (I know poor folks who are quite content and some wealthy folks who are miserable.)

I don't have any data backing me up or nothin' but kindness seems more 'other' oriented whereas anger seems more 'self' oriented. And that's where context and contentment come in to play.

I try and practice kindness. I think what helps me is to consider what I CAN / WILL do rather than what I SHOULD do. I also try and take the word 'should' out of the equation when it comes to other peoples' behavior. ("They should have" or shouldn't have done such and such . . . ) I'm less judgmental when I do that. When I'm less judgmental, I'm way less angry and tend to lean more toward wanting to understand 'where the other guy is standing.'

And ya know . . . it's a daily practice thing - with some days being better than others. But then - if I were kind all the time - I'd probably be just as insufferable as if I were angry all the time.


ecodrew said...

I'm not going to wade into the psychological or sociological causes of being a decent, kind person vs a stinky jerk since I don't have a phd... But, I've often wondered how much extra effort it must take to go out of your way to be a jerk (especially when I was a waiter, lol). Not only is it the right thing to do, but being kind (like this bus driver) often takes a tiny bit of effort in proportion to huge positive effect it has on oneself and others. Kind of like the old adage that it takes more muscles to frown than a smile. :-)

Anonymous said...

I think what is in your heart is portrayed in your actions. A fountain can't have bitter water (undrinkable) and sweet water (drinkable). Sure, some days we need more space then others (dealing with our own issues), but on the whole I think it is a heart condition.

Louna said...

I think part of it is habit. Alicia mentioned having to work for it, that it's not her first reaction. But I think if you often work for it, consciously do the right thing, after a while it will become an automatism.

Anonymous said...

I think it's okay to have to work at being kind. It's no less worthy than the kindness that comes naturally to some folks. Kindness is kindness.


Anonymous said...

Sometimes people "just are". Quite like people who are just horrible, or just selfish. I'm kind because I "just am".