Unkindness costs everything

Don't confuse kindness with weakness. Alistair Vince looks to Aunt Lucy...

Last week, we received a video for a client project on how the cost of living crisis was impacting people. One showed a person crying about their money worries, about how hard everything was and how awful their Christmas had been. After watching it, our client sent us some money to pass on to them, which we matched. The client didn’t have to do that. It hasn’t happened before. But it was kind. And the person who received the money was blown away. “I feel a bit overwhelmed. You’ve all been so kind to me”.  You can work out for yourselves how much effort that took, but the impact on that person was huge. As Ronald Reagan once said, “We can’t help everyone, but everyone can help someone“. Of course, kindness doesn’t have to be monetary.

Individually, kindness can make all kinds of differences, but unfortunately corporations commonly misdefine kindness, thinking it could be offering flexible working, or giving people a pay rise. But it’s deeper than that, more personal. It starts with flexing the empathy muscle, understanding people better, taking it down to the individual level. Leaders should try paying for an employee to take themselves and their partner to dinner, as you know they’ve been away from their family for a week with work. Or asking them how they truly are, properly listening to the answer, and remembering it later and asking them about it.

John Travolta as Gabriel in Swordfish (2001)

Do what you feel you can, then try harder. Maybe some leaders are scared of it, maybe it doesn’t fit into the corporate playbook, perhaps they don’t see it as strong leadership. We’d do well to remember what John Travolta’s character Gabriel said in the film Swordfish (2001), “Don’t confuse kindness with weakness“.

Whilst kindness is relatively straightforward (though under practised), costs almost nothing and measurably improves lives, the opposite is also true — corporate unkindness and lack of empathy measurably makes lives worse. I have no idea why it seems so hard to achieve or what people are scared of. The rarity of it is illustrated by how many ‘kindness’ stories make the news. What’s wrong with us all? This shouldn’t be news, this should be normal. As Henry James said “Three things in human life are important. The first is to be kind. The second is to be kind. And the third is to be kind“. Well said, Henry.

Perhaps David Foster Wallace has a potential reason why

Wallace, who in his epic commencement address, This is Water (If you haven’t listened to or read the whole speech I urge you to), posited that our natural, default setting is to think that we are the centre of the universe and “the realest, most vivid and important person in existence“, but that “the really important kind of freedom involves… being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day“.

He’s right. It might be unsexy, but it’s vital.

Yes, you might have to think about it, but no more than say you think about what you’re going to watch on Netflix this evening. So try something for me — instead of blindly scrolling through the infinite amount of shows and choosing something you probably won’t actually like, think instead about something kind you could do for someone tomorrow.

We’d do well to all remember what Aunt Lucy told Paddington, “If we’re kind and polite, the world will be right”.

I’m with Aunt Lucy.

Featured Image: Rod Long / Unsplash

Alistair Vince

Alistair is Chief Thinker (and CEO) at Watch Me Think, a behavioural research company he co-founded that focuses on capturing actual rather than claimed behaviour via consumer videos made on their smartphones. Previously he worked at Mintel, until he had an epiphany moment about the value of observational research and connecting employees to their consumers, whilst listening to Dr Nancy Synder from Whirlpool talk about washing machines True story.

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