If not kindness, what are we influencing?

A Guide to Living Kindly

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This is an essay written by Mark Shapiro from the book Living Kindly: Bold conversations about the power of kindness

If not kindness, what are we influencing?

On November 13th, 2019, I found myself with an amazing opportunity of being a guest on the CBS News 8 Morning show in San Diego to highlight World Kindness Day. I was so excited for the opportunity to talk about kindness and to share my story. However, I also figured I’d be asked the dreaded question, ”How can we celebrate World Kindness Day with random acts of kindness in our community?”

While ‘yes,’ things like pay it forward lines (or what my friend, Houston Kraft calls “confetti kindness”) are really sweet gestures, what drives me crazy is that random kind acts are the default starting point when our society addresses the topic of kindness. The reality, however, is that living kindly is a day to day practice, and isn’t always the easy, timely, or obvious choice - despite being extremely important to our collective well being (not to mention our physical, mental, and social health).

Back to the TV interview...even the thought of the morning show host focusing in on random acts of kindness and framing kindness to the public in a gimmicky, highly produced way frustrated me. And sure enough, her 1st question was ”How can we celebrate World Kindness Day with random acts of kindness in our community?”

In the kindest and most respectful way I could, I pushed back and dove into the misconceptions of kindness, the benefits of kindness, and the infinite possibilities of not being kind just randomly, but consistently.
Equally annoying, this wasn’t the 1st time I've been frustrated with the way our world often looks at kindness. When I started my consulting business, KindBiz, and reached out to companies to share about my relationship building and kind leadership trainings, I’d often be met with “your work sounds really ‘nice’ and we like what you are doing but I don’t think I’ll able to sell in your training and workshop to upper management.”

We are taught the importance of kindness throughout childhood - as an essential trait and relationship building skill - but apparently our culture questions the role of the Golden Rule in business. While business is powered by relationships, communication, and teamwork, our society and pop-culture glamorizes a cutthroat approach. From iconic films like Glengarry Glen Ross, to The Apprentice (“you’re fired”), and the on-going notion that ‘nice guys finish last,’ we’ve been subtly (or not so subtly) disillusioned to the idea that kindness can take a back seat in business.

If you are reading this book, I bet you’d disagree that kindness is optional, and given the state of the world and the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have started to see an immediate change in this narrative, as kindness is vital for any business to not only thrive, but survive right now. Needless to say, those same companies who didn’t return my calls are now bringing me in to facilitate not one, but multiple kind leadership and relationship building trainings.

But if I'm going to be super real with you, I also had my own misconceptions about kindness.
For the first 30 years of my life, I mistakenly thought that being ‘kind’ was the same thing as being ‘nice.’ Wow, was I wrong! Growing up in Minneapolis, Minnesota, I definitely could be described as “Minnesota nice” - a cultural stereotype seen in movies like Fargo where the characters are overly pleasant and agreeable to the extent where it’s automatic and a bit phony.

While I always strived to treat others politely and have pleasant interactions, I didn’t realize that my commitment to being nice was not only inauthentic at times, but that others could sense it and found it off-putting. In other words, I learned that being nice can actually be the antithesis of being kind and can have the opposite effect.

The difference between “nice” and “kind”
•Being ‘nice’ is an externally motivated disposition to be pleasant, agreeable, and conflict avoidant.
•Being ’kind’ is an action-driven internal motivation to be caring, helpful, and generous.

When you’re focused on being ‘nice,' you may do things just to be liked or maintain appearances such as agreeing to attend an event you don’t want to go to, giving someone a fake smile or enthusiastic greeting when you really don’t want anything to do with them, or not speaking up because you don’t want to ‘rock the boat.’ While we may do these things to be seen as someone that others can approach and relate to, it can end up coming across as weak, insincere, or not leave any type of memorable impression. As a result, the value of a ‘nice’ person is often immeasurable or indifferent.

When you’re being ‘kind,’ you genuinely care about the people around you (whether family, friends, co-workers, or strangers), communicate honestly and compassionately, and make a positive impact on the people and situations you find yourself in through supportive behavior and action. The value a ‘kind’ person brings to the table is tangible and vital. They are the kind of people you want to have in your inner circle, on your team, and around when you find yourself in an unexpected bind.

While some actions can be nice and kind at the same time, not all nice actions are kind and not all kind actions are considered nice. Being kind means you may not do or say the things that others want to see or hear. Being kind may mean creating uncomfortable situations for the long-term good - whether for yourself, someone else, both parties, or even others affected. Being kind can also be inconvenient, go unnoticed, or lead to outcomes with some undesirable results, but living kindly requires one to live on that edge.

My Story

For me, living kindly on a consistent basis started in 2012 but it wasn’t because of a commitment to kindness, it was through a personal desire to live more authentically. What I didn't realize at the time is that by following my heart, expressing my truth, and carving my own path, I was actually being kind to myself - which I’ve found to be the foundation for living kindly.

From leaving behind a successful 6-figure corporate job at Showtime Networks, and supporting others to live more authentically through my podcast (Are You Being Real) and coaching program (Winning Weeks), I learned that by not being kind to myself, I wasn't sharing my unique perspectives and gifts, and every one who I helped and supported during those following years would have lost out had I stuck to my comfort zone and people pleasing ways. Furthermore, the more kind I was to myself, the more I was able to help, support and connect with others.

Instead of questioning my role and where I fit in, I was more focused on giving, providing value, and simply being myself. In the process, I discovered that being kind to others can take an infinite number of shapes and forms, and can be as simple as being a positive influence - whether lending a helping hand, sharing a laugh or smile, or making someone feel seen, heard, and valued.

This discovery blew my mind, gave me so much confidence, and became the catalyst for my life changing daily kindness practice.

After my dad passed away in 2016, I made a post about it on social media, and I got so much love and support that I wanted to feel this loved, connected and supported all the time - and ensure others did too, so I started a daily ritual of sending personalized video messages to each of my 3,000 Facebook friends on their birthdays. While I guessed it would be a nice gift to give, and help me keep in touch, little did I know that sending appreciation videos would totally transform my life, relationships, and be a gift that keeps on giving.

You see, a personalized video message (even if just 20-30 seconds) is incredibly powerful, as it really stands out from a text or generic/impersonal “happy birthday” Facebook wall post. You actually get to experience the person’s voice, energy, see their face, and even the location of where they are, and perhaps, what they are doing. This creates a greater level of connection because you can feel the thoughtfulness, effort, and know that the person took a few seconds out of their day to give you their kind attention (when they could be doing anything else). Since everyone feels alone or socially isolated at times, a video message can make a huge impression and literally shift someone’s day in an instance.

20,000 LoveBomb videos, and a TEDx talk later, I still send personalized videos every day because I get to uplift others and experience the proven benefits of kindness!

The benefits of loving kindness

-Increases happiness

-Decreases stress and anxiety

-Deepens connections

-Attracts more good in to your life

-Instantly makes the world a brighter place

Sending the birthday videos is a gratitude practice that reminds me who I am and what I stand for everyday, which amplifies the joy I feel on a good day or brightens up a dark day when things aren’t going my way, or when I’m not being kind to myself.

But perhaps the most special and magical part, is that this daily ritual inspired me to create the LoveBomb app and a ripple effect of kindness across the world.

Nearly every day, I have someone tell me that I inspired them to start sending video messages, or they share a story of an interaction they had with someone that wouldn't have happened without coming across my work or the LoveBomb app. One 30 year old man even told his dad “I love you” for the first time, and his dad replied with an equally unprecedented remark, “I love you, too.”

By being kind, we not only get to help others, but experience a profound personal reward that often has a compounding effect on our lives and the world around us. If only our minds remembered this truth more often when opportunities for kindness appear!

You see, there is so much more love to go around, and an infinite amount of kindness available that would literally aid, uplift, and unite humanity. But kind actions are often not taken and so many kind words go left unsaid.

What's important to remember is that life is challenging, there are unkind influences all around us (from the news, to ads, to social media), and we often never know what others are going through. As a result, if we hold back, look the other way, or just do what everybody else is doing, we rob ourselves and each other of the gift of giving and receiving support.

In a world where every person is an influencer, since we all are powerful and have impact on the people around us, it’s important to be aware of what’s influencing us, what we are influencing, and personally strive to be (what I call) a “kindfluencer.”

For me, what started with self-kindness, led to a daily connection practice to uplift others, and ultimately inspired an impact - much larger than myself - that I could have only dreamed of. This is available to any one and every one!

Through my unintended journey into kindness, I’ve discovered that being kind is rooted in three important pillars that are available to everyone in any moment: 1) being caring, 2) being helpful and 3) being authentic. If you approach every situation, opportunity, and person in a caring, helpful, and authentic way, you can always know that you are living kindly and coming from a place of good intention and spirit.

To best set yourself up for a life of continued kindness and impact, I recommend developing your own daily kindness practice, and encourage you to ask yourself these thought provoking questions.

How can I be kinder to myself?

How can I be kinder to others?

How can I be kinder to the world at large?

At the end of the day, we can leave a footprint or leave a kind print. Which do you choose and what will yours look like?

Because if not kindness, what are we influencing???

About The Author

Mark Shapiro has sent over 20,000 personalized appreciation videos and is the founder of LoveBomb. Inspired by his TED Talk - "The Art of Connection in a Digital World," LoveBomb is a connection calendar & social assistant that makes it easy to never miss birthdays and big days in the lives of people you care about.