Camping helped me appreciate kindness.
Evolution and the wild
Kindness and altruism represent the highest expression of evolution, through the human animal ability to empathize. You can empower yourself with empathy and be the king or queen of evolution. No act of kindness passes without causing positive ripples through space and time.
A camping trip into the wild of Idaho reminded me of this truth over the weekend. The park ranger approached our blue minivan, with the six of us just pulling into a camping spot.
Rather aggressively she shoved the payment envelope in my face, telling me that it would be $10 per night for the camping spot. I had no problem with the fee, only with the payment. The forest service wanted cash or a check for the full amount, and I was more than willing to pay.
However, I tend not to carry cash or check because I rely on the trusty VISA card. The woman ranger became testy when I brought this up, "we can't do that in any way, shape, or form." Well, I thought to myself, I do not have any money, and the drive back to civilization is two hours.
Instead of reacting in opposition to her, I gushed with genuine kindness, and she softened. "You folks have done a beautiful job with the campground this season." The ranger became most friendly and helpful, and we worked out a way to mail the payment in, technically against regulation.
At first I perceived the ranger as mean and threatening, but I met her with polite kindness. She found her better nature and responded with help. Had I responded "Well, I don't have any money, so you're going to have to work it out somehow," the ranger would have escalated to anger and closed me off. The power of kind words connected us as humans, and we were nice to each other.
The power of kindness
No act of kindness from my past haunts me, but I anguish over moments when I have offered less - an argument with a police officer over a ticket, a fight with a Walmart employee over a broken lamp, or an angry word spoken to my son.
Kindness is always the best, a truth I have learned through experience, and people everywhere do all they can to help you when you approach them with a smile. Clerks in retail stores across the nation have proven this to me time after time.
In each moment, we have the power to act in a positive way, but we surrender that asset when we react with harmful emotions. Dr. Ben Dean points out that my kindness is actually selfish because I receive these rewards:
1) Doing something kind reduces the tension created by our experience of empathy and inaction.
For me, selfishness in the act does not diminish the kindness because it is a form of positive action. While it may not count as pure altruism, selfish kindness still feels good to both me and the recipient.
Kindness and altruism are especially important in business. In her Forbes article, Natalie Peace emphasizes this:
If you’re an entrepreneur (or want to be one) I can’t encourage you enough to consider your contribution beyond the products or services you sell. We live in an age where social responsibility is a necessity. Younger generations in particular are choosing their employers and deciding where to spend their paychecks based on how inspired they are by the contributions and impact of the businesses in question. And they have more choices than ever. Making a token charitable donation won’t cut it now–dare to do something truly newsworthy and amazing.
As humans continue to evolve, my hope is that we change toward our higher capacities of altruism and empathy. Being hateful is easy, but the attitude affects a community and culture negatively.
Some ideas for kind acts
In business, look for ways to seriously help, and even though it may be selfish, the net result is positive. You might try some of these exercises in goodness:
You can probably think of more possibilities than I, and by making a conscious, mindful effort to be kind each day, you will find yourself much happier. And, others will find you more likeable.
There are cognitive benefits to kindness as well, as David DiSalvo suggests in his Scientific American article, "Forget Survival of the Fittest: It Is Kindness That Counts."
“Born to be good” means that our mammalian and hominid evolution has crafted a species—us—with remarkable tendencies toward kindness, play, generosity, reverence and self-sacrifice, which are vital to the classic tasks of evolution—survival, gene replication and smoothly functioning groups. These tendencies are felt in the wonderful realm of emotion—feelings such as compassion, gratitude, awe, embarrassment and mirth. Recent studies have revealed that our capacity for caring, play, reverence and modesty is built into our brains, bodies, genes and social practices.
You are programmed and prepared for social kindness, but as we age, sometimes we turn away from our highest capacities. Altruism has evolutionary benefits, which means the more we employ and teach it, the more "evolved" we become.
A world or office full of kind people is a happy place.
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Before you leave, drop a thought below. What are other ways to show kindness? How do you feel when someone shows you kindness? Or anger? Thank you for being here. You are great!