Civilization’s Cornerstone: Kindness – from the book “Triumph From Failure: Lessons from Life for Business Success” by Alistair McAlpine and Kate Dixey
Kindness is the fuel of civilization, politeness and courtesy its etiquette, its formalities, and dignity its aim. Civilization is about responsibility for your own actions, and it is about tolerating other people’s actions. One person trying to accept another’s habits is the essence of civilization. Kindness typically reserved for the home and loved ones can be an attitude encompassing your entire life.
Kindness is a gentle, thoughtful, peaceful thing, most effective in its simplicity. Most humans have a tendency towards altruism — it has been proven in all parts of the world that part of the recovery process of disaster victims is altruistic behaviour. Lord Byron, the famous nineteenth-century English romantic poet, wrote beautifully of kindness, “The drying up a single tear has more of honest fame than shedding seas of gore.” There is a gentleness to kindness that is noble. Kindness gives you not only strength, but also an inner beauty. The American philosopher and poet, Ralph Waldo Emerson, wrote, “There is no beautifier of complexion, or form, or behaviour, like the wish to scatter joy and not pain around us.”
Kindness, however, is not just the stuff of poetry and poets; it is also the stuff of sound business sense. You never know to whom you are being kind. Kindness to an unfortunate may result in, and indeed often has turned out, to be repaid 100 times. The twentieth-century French writer, André Gide, had a view of kindness, “True kindness presupposes the faculty of imagining as one’s own the suffering and joys of others.” What Gide refers to here is, in fact, sensitivity. If you are to succeed in business, you need sensitivity, and sensitivity can be developed. In fact, “Kindness can become its own motive.”
It should be easy to express kindness at work as opportunity abounds with typically large groups of people around you. People who show kindness demonstrate strength of character; it is admired and it is contagious. Importantly, kindness to your colleagues shows that you have confidence in your own ability, and shows that you have strength of character. Those around you will notice both of these and admire them. Both of these characteristics, strength of character and confidence, are qualifications for promotion. Admiration is totally different from popularity in the workplace. Bosses prefer to promote those who people admire and are often suspicious of those who are merely popular. Often it is believed that there is an emotional expense in giving kindness. People often avoid giving kindness in the belief that it makes them feel emotionally drained. These people are mistaken. The truth is, as we have to learn everything else in life, we must learn about giving kindness. Giving in a truly profound way is wonderful. If you really give profoundly, you will feel it in your heart and you will see it reflected in the people around you.
“We are made kind by being kind,” wrote Eric Hoffer, the American social philosopher in the 1950s. And in the first century A.D., Publius Syrus, a Roman slave and mime, knew what some biologists and social scientists claim now to have proven, “You can accomplish by kindness what you cannot do by force.” Kindness requires patience, an appreciation of the importance of others, a certain diplomacy. Compassion and kindness may sound sentimental but they actually lead to a deeper connection and rapport that create trust, a friendly atmosphere, compassion, and most importantly for business, an enjoyable synchronicity and harmony in the working environment. The people who are able to create such an environment and display these qualities are people who others trust to become a leader in the business world and the community.
Leadership evolves out of expertise, ambition and luck, but true inspiration comes with a willingness to connect your own vulnerability with somebody else’s. So do not pass up the opportunity to remain silent and caring if the need arises. This so-called “soft” management approach is the ability to make yourself open and sensitive to others’ feelings. It takes courage to be quiet and listen to someone else’s discomfort. This can feel strange within a working framework, but actually it forms a greater professional respect. The art of kindness is not just approaching a market challenge, but meeting the needs of each individual to find a resolution.
Kindness to those around you is important, but perhaps more important is kindness to yourself, the most difficult form of kindness to practice. Reward not only your success but also your effort. Kindness to yourself helps deal with rejection. You may get disheartened, and self-kindness alleviates frustration brought on by an initial lack of success. Often, other people do not want you to succeed, so self-kindness is not only important, it is necessary. You cannot get it from others. Kindness to those who fail wins appreciation. Kindness to those who win when you fail brings respect. Kindness is a building block of a happy life. Kindness is born in consideration and love. Teach yourself to be considerate, mostly in small matters, and consideration for others in big matters will become second nature.
In relationships of all natures, it is well worth remembering that your perspective of other people will change with the differing situations in which you find yourself. The memory of a life is made up of many small incidents. Even large incidents are made up of small incidents, some details well remembered, some half remembered; some, in the nature of folklore, are distorted fact and embellished fantasy — details invented that for you have become facts. These incidents, as the dots that comprise a photograph, are the picture of your life and become a complete memory. When the circumstances of your life change, the pre-eminencies of these small dots rearrange themselves and the picture of your life alters. Your attitude and perception change to issues and people. In extreme cases, heroes become villains and vice versa. In truth, however, they have not changed; merely how you see them has changed.
Kindness must always be meaningful. When you are pivoting in your life, it is easy to be confused about meaningful kindness. Just being lovely to everyone is no solution. Rather, as always, kindness must be carefully considered, directed with as full knowledge of the facts as possible. Haphazard kindness, as exemplified by the comedy routine of the boy scout who took an unwilling old lady far out of her way across a busy road to earn “a good deed for the day,” can only cause confusion and distress. As Thomas Fuller, an African slave and mathematician, wrote in 1732, “Unreasonable kindness gets no thanks.”
Kindness has its own rewards, for those who have succeeded in developing their instincts and sensitivity can physically experience the sensation of their own kindness around the area of their heart. The sensation is so memorable that it is astonishing. Yet we fear and resist that sensation, perhaps because we simply think that it will feel so good and then disappear, leaving us sad and disappointed, unhappy that this memorable feeling could come and go so easily.
As a sensation, kindness may frighten people. They are scared because they do not trust kindness in themselves or others. These people believe that there must be a catch in being kind. For them kindness is associated with weakness and brutal honesty, which they regard as an admirable quality but is actually unkindness. Often these people see themselves as “saying what they think.” More often, they do not take the simple precaution of thinking before their victims hear what they have to say. These types of people believe that you are being kind to them only because you want something from them. They are sad people trapped in a sad suspicious world incapable of coming to terms with even the first building block in the construction of happiness.
Conversely, kindness quite often comes from a totally unexpected source, a person who you do not know well, and certainly did not expect to be kind to you. Even a total stranger can make an act of kindness to you spontaneously, just because they felt like giving more than was required. How wonderful you feel when a total stranger is kind to you; conversely, how wonderful you feel when you are kind to a total stranger. It is an amazing moment, sparked perhaps by an action that can be so small as to pass for good manners. The scale of the kindness does not matter. Kindness has a disproportionate effect on the well being of both the giver and the recipient. Samuel Johnson, the eighteenth-century English writer and thinker, is quoted in Boswell’s Life of Samuel Johnson in 1781 as speaking well of spontaneous kindness. “Always set a high value on spontaneous kindness. He whose inclination prompts him to cultivate your friendship of his own accord will love you more than one whom you have been at pains to attach to you.”
Learn to enjoy receiving kindness, learn to enjoy being thanked. It will make the giver of the thanks glow and it may produce a second or two of shyness, so intimate that it will touch the other person deep down inside. Enjoy the acts of giving and receiving, for they are moments of true beauty. The least expected these moments are, the greater their beauty. How strange it is that we so often receive kindness from the most unexpected sources and unkindness from those who we would most expect to be kind. Kindness over time, however, accumulates into a pile in our psyche and helps us come to terms with times when people are rude or unkind.
Kindness is fundamentally different from a desire to please, which is a deferential activity. Kindness is an instinct, mutual to two people. An instinct evolved in one returned by another in equal measure. Kindness is without doubt at least a layer of building blocks in the construction of happiness. Kindness and how you deal with others are closely intertwined. Do not make that smart remark that is devastating to the ego of others, forget it, put it out of your mind. Even to think of hurtful remarks colors your attitude to others and leaves a stain on your own spirit. Put aside the jibe that leaves even the smallest scar on your relationship with others. Avoid that verbal passage of arms, as the argument that often leads to sensuality is not to be confused with the path to happiness.
Needless to say, it is a lot easier to be kind to someone who is kind to you than to a person who is unkind to you. Kindness is not an abstract quality. To promise kindness and not to fulfill that promise is one of the surest ways to damage a relationship. Trust is suspended by such an action; you are left with a question mark over you in the mind of other people. Misused kindness, such as giving to take, is again an action that will break down trust, which is a basis for a satisfactory relationship. As Juvenal, a Roman satirist, wrote around the year 100, “Nature, in giving tears to man, confessed that he had a tender heart; this is our noblest quality.” There are no dangers in kindness. People say to each other that you can be too kind, but this is untrue. There is no downside to kindness; you cannot lose through practicing kindness.
By being kind you show strength and attract people. People will want to work with you. They will think of you as being fair and confident. Other people will know that because you are kind you are not likely to make judgements based on petty biases and the prejudices of other people. Other people who you work with will know that you are your own person and in their confidence you will find encouragement and feel better about yourself. Even if your kindness is rebuffed and not reciprocated, however shabby the treatment you receive in return, your own kindness will fortify your spirit, enhance your life, and l ead you towards happiness. You can never be too kind. Kindness is not a sign of weakness. As Franklin D. Roosevelt said in a radio address on October 13, 1940, “Human kindness has never weakened the stamina or softened the fibre of a free people. A nation does not have to be cruel to be tough.”
Copyright © 2005 Alistair McAlpine and Kate Dixey
Sir Robert Alistair McAlpine is the author of many successful books, including The New Machiavelli (1998). In the 1970s and 1980s, he served as Treasurer of the European Democratic Union and Vice President of the European League for Economic Cooperation. He was Deputy Chairman of the Conservative and Unionist Party. McAlpine has also devoted much of his life to the commercial side of the performing and fine arts. He has served on the boards of numerous other charitable organizations and is a member of the House of Lords. He spends his time between France, Italy, America, Australia, and England.
Kate Dixey has had a deliberately varied career, working as a Costume Designer since 1979 with the BBC and ITV Independent Television Companies, Feature Films, numerous Film Production Companies, and Advertising Agencies. Beginning in 1985, Kate worked on commercials designing and styling on major campaigns for companies such as British Airways, AT&T, BP, Midland Bank, and Nestle. During this period, Kate completed her studies in Integrated Chinese Medicine qualifying as an Acupuncturist and runs a private practice in London. Kate has lectured at the Cranfield School of Management, and the London School of Business. Kate resides in London.
This excerpt from the book Triumph from Failure by Alistair McAlpine, Kate Dixey Published by Thomson; February 2005; Copyright © 2005 Alistair McAlpine, Kate Dixey. Re-printed here with permission from Thomson
Triumph from Failure explores fundamental human themes, such as success, eating, sleeping, understanding, beauty, kindness, and failure. Each chapter explains how and why these themes play an intricate and essential part in our success as individuals. The key is to bring all of the small actions in your life under control and to obtain balance — unlocking greater happiness in life, at home, and at work.
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