Famous theologian, philosopher and physician Albert Schweitzer once said,“Constant kindness can accomplish much. As the sun makes ice melt, kindness causes misunderstanding, mistrust, and hostility to evaporate.” What a poetic way to express such a universal truth! Few would argue with the idea that kindness can accomplish what little else can.
Genuine acts of kindness and sincere, gentle words – these are the most effective tools for building bridges of trust and tearing down walls of hostility. As Schweitzer’s analogy illustrates, kindness, like the heat of the sun, may not yield immediate results, but given time, it will overcome the cold and melt away the unforgiving ice of mistrust and enmity. Just as evaporation can be a slow and almost invisible process, the healing effect of kindness only comes as the result of perseverance and patience.
Notice that Schweitzer said “constant kindness,” not just “kindness” or “occasional kindness,” but constant kindness. Just as the warmth of the sun is less effective when intermittently hidden by clouds, or limited by the shorter days of winter, kindness loses its power when only offered infrequently and briefly. To truly be effective, kindness must be genuine and constant.
Kindness is certainly not easy, and constant kindness may seem impossible, especially when offered to someone you may consider an adversary. Being kind to the people you love and cherish the most can oftentimes be a chore, imagine trying to be genuinely and constantly kind to someone you dislike! Kindness may come more naturally to some people, but no matter who you are, offering genuine and constant kindness as an antidote to “misunderstanding, mistrust, and hostility” will never be easy. Situations fraught with misunderstanding and hostility are usually met with frustration and anger – not kindness.
So how can you more often intentionally employ genuine and constant kindness in the midst of difficult circumstances? Here are a few practical tips and excerpts borrowed from Leo Babauta’s blog post “18 Practical Tips for Living the Golden Rule:”
- “Practice empathy. Make it a habit to try to place yourself in the shoes of another person… really try to understand, to the extent that you can, what it is like to be them, what they are going through, and why they do what they do.
- Practice compassion. Once you can understand another person, and feel what they’re going through, learn to want to end their suffering. And when you can, take even a small action to somehow ease their suffering in some way.
- How would you want to be treated? When you put yourself in their shoes, ask yourself how you think they want to be treated. Ask yourself how you would want to be treated if you were in their situation.
- Overcome prejudice. Try to see each person as an individual human being, with different backgrounds and needs and dreams. And try to see the commonalities between you and that person, despite your differences.”
A few more tips from Babauta for treating people with kindness include:
- “Be friendly
- Be helpful
- Listen to others
- Stop criticism
- Don’t control others
- Rise above retaliation”
After practicing these valuable habits, you will not only notice an effect on those you’re treating with kindness, you’ll notice a change in yourself; you’ll begin to feel better about yourself, happier, more satisfied, and maybe even more willing to trust others. “These changes come slowly and in small increments, but if you pay attention, you’ll see them.” The potential for these incredible dividends shouldn’t be ignored!
Learn from the enduring wisdom of Albert Schweitzer and take the advice of Leo Babauta – commit to intentionally show kindness, in word and deed, to everyone. Even the most incorrigible adversaries will begin to come around when offered warm, genuine and constant kindness, and the positive effect on your own life will be invaluable.
To read the full article by Leo Babauta, visit his blog at zenhabits.net.