A Season of Kindness

December 5, 2019 Patrick Malone

4-minute read

candy cane heart

It’s that time of year again. Has anyone noticed? We’re in the midst of the season of thanksgiving, good cheer, and time with friends and family. No doubt – it feels like we’re all a little nicer as we approach November and December. People are even coming to full stops at four-way intersections!

Listen to our exclusive interview with Patrick Malone in the latest episode of Workhuman® Radio.

It’s not always easy for kindness and gratitude to make themselves known in today’s world. Combine our omnipresent, hyperactive environment with a 24-hour news cycle, divisive discourse across our nation, and no time for reflection, and it’s no wonder we snap at one another. Life is hard. Research has even suggested we may possess an intrinsic bias toward negativity. This has been helpful from an evolutionary standpoint. We make decisions that allow us to survive and succeed. But kindness, vulnerability, compassion, and empathy struggle to make the grade in a pressure-cooker world.

It never fails to amaze me how often we are surprised by kindness.

When we hear a story or witness an act of kindness, we often react with disbelief. Then we tell someone about it, usually beginning with the words, “You’ll never believe what I just saw!” As human beings we may be hardwired for survival, but we’re also hardwired for belonging. Our longing for connectedness and love is uniquely human.

What’s truly remarkable is that we seem to be more kind at the very time of year when our anxiety is at its highest. There’s often travel involved, and credit card limits, and endless social obligations. Despite the pace of the season, our hearts still open just a bit. We get a little closer to those we like and build a few bridges to those we don’t. It’s true that in what may be the most stressful season, we allow ourselves this heart and soul connection

Here’s an idea: Let’s extend kindness throughout the year.

It makes our relationships better, improves our health, and infuses our organizations with everything needed for success.

I’m not talking analytical, data-focused, quantitative success. This is about the soft skills, and kindness is the ultimate soft skill. And don’t confuse kindness with weakness. Kindness is a strength. It is simple and unpretentious, and it offers us an extraordinary way to influence and inspire.

Maybe as we move through this season, we could spend a little time building the mindsets that allow us to exude kindness. Perhaps begin with humility, that simple personality characteristic that allows us to connect authentically with others. Practicing humility draws others toward us and opens avenues of communication. We could also be a little slower to react when confronted with something that makes us uncomfortable. Assume noble intent. No matter the circumstance you find yourself in, ask first what you can learn.

Since we spend so much time around others during the season, it may be a good idea to work on those interpersonal and non-verbal skills.

Perhaps if we can take a moment to check our own bias, our own actions, and our own inclinations, we can take a step toward the behaviors that make people feel loved and appreciated. Self-awareness is the most crucial component of emotional intelligence and is the gateway to human-to-human connection.   

Lastly, remember that practice makes perfect. Kind acts often lead to other kind acts. They create a palpable vibe among all who practice, witness, or receive. Simply witnessing gratitude and kindness results in a greater likelihood that one will respond in kind (sorry for that wordplay!). Practice, practice, practice.

Author, poet, and civil rights activist Maya Angelou once stated, “‎The desire to reach the stars is ambitious. The desire to reach hearts is wise and most possible.” We have a human imperative for kindness, touching others’ hearts, and craving belonging. Don’t let a crazy holiday season pull you away from these simple facts. It is our moral imperative to be kind to one another. Let’s make it a year-long initiative.

(Patrick S. Malone, PhD, will present a session entitled “The Gift of Gratitude. The Power of Kindness.” at Workhuman® Live in San Antonio, May 11-14, 2020.)

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About the Author

Patrick Malone

Professor Malone is an Executive-in-Residence in the Department of Public Administration and Policy where he teaches courses in public sector leadership, executive problem solving, organizational analysis, action learning, leadership ethics, and public administration and policy. He also serves as the Director of American University’s Key Executive Leadership Programs.

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