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by Donald B. Ardell, Ph. D.
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Wellness in the Headlines
(Don's Report to the World)

A Few Words For Kindness: A Much Neglected But Powerful Wellness Quality

Friday March 4, 2005

The Welch writer Jan Morris recently urged British politicians to recognize kindness as a potent asset. What prompted Ms. Morris, author of dozens of artful travel books, to offer this suggestion? Only the fact that, in her words, "few Britons go to church or chapel, most are probably agnostic if not decided unbelievers, and the rest are split into infinite sectarian divisibilities of faith," but kindness needs "no theologians to explain it to us." (See "Vote Kindness," Wall Street Journal, February 24, 2005, A14.) 

What an amazing idea! Of course, another good reason to practice kindness is that it makes life better for everyone. Besides British politicians, kindness embellishes the pleasures of life for all in a multitude of little ways, the cumulative effect of which gratifies both purveyors and beneficiaries. Unlike religious paths, which "bore to death most of the electorate and antagonize the rest" (alas, Ms. Morris is referring to the voters in Great Britain, not America), an emphasis on kindness could impart a transcendental element to the amelioration of, or at least our approach to, life's intractable difficulties.

Indeed, Ms. Morris goes even further, suggesting kindness has such potential it could be used for commercial as well as political advantage. She suggests a few sample slogans, including, "Vote Tory: The Party of Kindness," and "Wisconsin Cheese: From The Land of Kindness." In summary, Ms. Morris believes that there is "latent in the idea of kindness a great abstract weapon only waiting to be brandished: Grander than mere religion, far nobler than greed, more convincing than any political creed."  
Well, Ms. Morris has distinguished company in a worldwide movement to promote this splendid virtue. About a decade ago, a "Small Kindness Movement" started in Japan. Soon, a conference was held, after which attendees fanned out across the globe to promote kindness. Most started by forming organizations for this purpose. You can find links to kindness organizations in twelve nations, including the often unkind USA, at the World Kindness Movement website.

The best known of the kindness groups in America is "The Random Acts of Kindness Foundation." It exists as "a resource for people committed to spreading kindness." The Foundation's website offers materials such as "activity ideas, lesson plans, project plans, teacher's guides, project planning guides, publicity guides and workplace resources." All of these resources are free. The basic idea is to inspire people to practice kindness and to "pass it on" to others. The Foundation's "kindness coordinators assist others to incorporate kindness into thousands of schools and communities. The belief is "that as people tap into their own generous human spirit and share kindness with one another, they discover for themselves the power of kindness to effect positive change. When kindness is expressed, healthy relationships are created, community connections are nourished and people are inspired to pass kindness on." Interestingly, the Foundation is privately funded to the point it accepts no donations, grants, or membership dues and, best of all, it has no religious, government or other affiliations. It truly appears to be an affirmative action, equal kindness opportunity organization.

Kindness is, of course, one of the common moral decencies widely shared, particularly by those for whom religions have no appeal. Paul Kurtz and many others view the common decencies as basic to a high quality of life (and survival) of any human community and "the foundation of moral education." Besides personal integrity and trustworthiness, benevolence highlights Kurtz' high standards for dealing with each other. Defined as "manifesting goodwill and noble intentions toward other human beings and having a positive concern for them," kindness means, essentially, that we are beneficent, sympathetic and compassionate toward others. A practical example is seen in this advice from Caitlin J. Noris in "A Few Simple Rules for a Healthy Roommate Relationship," published in The Wall Street Journal Classroom Online Edition (December, 2003): "It is amazing how far kindness and respect will take you. Living in a small space with a stranger is sometimes awkward, but the tension can be eased by simply being polite." Just so. 

I'll be kind at this point by not belaboring the merits of kindness. Kindness is not hard to appreciate, though it is easy to overlook being so in the rush of daily life. 

Be well, be kind and try to always look on the bright side of life.

Domain: purpose
Subdomain: relationships

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