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The Kindness of Strangers
Kindness starts at home.
“The deepest principle in human nature is the craving to be appreciated.” — William James
Have you noticed how we tend to be on our best behavior when we’re around total strangers?
We warn our children not to “act up” in public, for fear of… what, exactly?
That we’ll be embarrassed? Outed as heathens?
And yet, in the privacy of our homes and boardrooms, we’ll let loose on our family and business colleagues who know us best.
It’s a strange twist when we’ll be kinder to people who have no relation to us than we will to the people who actually matter: customers, significant others, colleagues.
I’m reminded of Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire, in which Blanche Dubois heads to her sister’s apartment—a place she knew she neither belonged nor was wanted.
One night, in a fit of rage, her brother-in-law Stanley raped her. To make matters worse, Blanche’s sister Stella (Stanley’s wife) doesn’t believe Blanche when she tells her about it.
Eventually, Blanche has a nervous breakdown is institutionalized. In what became one of the most famous lines of the play, Blanche said to the doctor who was treating her:
“Whoever you are...I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.”
It’s a sad statement about humanity. That in some cases we’ll be more generous to those who are unknown to us than we will to those who matter.
Perhaps we know that our closest associates know us by our flaws, and we can’t absolve ourselves of those. Or maybe we just want someone to think of us by the pristine first impression we make with a kind gesture.
Scientists are learning that even the most casual contact with strangers and acquaintances can be tremendously beneficial to our happiness and well-being.
Having conversations with “lots of different people might build the sense of community and belonging to a larger social structure,” one researcher says. “That might be very powerful.”
Closer to home, there are numerous ways to be kind to the people around you. But it takes a sustained effort. Sustained as in more than just the hoops companies jump through to woo new customers.
Ways to Show Kindness
Send handwritten notes when people are expecting a tweet, a text, or a form email.
Get the CEO to call customers whom you discover are considering a rival brand.
Make everyone who calls customer service feel like they're the only person in the world at the time.
Tell those who are important to you that you love them, and back it up with how you treat them. Make time for them. Because at the end of your life, what matters most is the relationships that you’ve made along the way.
Don’t make these moments exceptional. Make them a regular way of doing things.
Make kindness your default position.
Not just something for strangers.
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“The real issue in life is not how many blessings we have, but what we do with our blessings. Some people have many blessings and hoard them. Some have few and give everything away.” — Fred Rogers, 2003
The founder of Kind Snacks explains the three C's of entrepreneurship. (Fast Company)
Kindness is a key element of corporate values and ideals that shape how an organization is perceived by employees, customers, and others. Many socially responsible companies adhere to a set of well defined core values that emphasize trust, honesty, integrity, and respect. Kindness is critical to the full expression and embodiment of these values because they are rooted in the ability of people to interact in positive and constructive ways, with confidence and support. The Business Case for Kindness (U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation)
In every workplace, there are three basic kinds of people: givers, takers and matchers. Organizational psychologist Adam Grant breaks down these personalities and offers simple strategies to promote a culture of generosity and keep self-serving employees from taking more than their share. Are you a giver or a taker? (TED)
“I think technology really increased human ability. But technology cannot produce compassion.” — Dalai Lama
In a Dartmouth Commencement speech, Mister Rogers told a story about the Seattle Special Olympics, where there were nine contestants at the starting line of the 100-yard dash. Not long after the race began, a boy fell, hurt his knee, and started crying. Every single contestant in the race slowed down and ran back to help him. The boy got up, the runners linked their arms, and walked to the finish line together. “What matters in this life is more than winning for ourselves. What really matters is helping others win too — even if it means slowing down and changing our course now and then.” (YouTube)
“Somewhere in eighth grade, many of us acquired the idea that the nasty putdown, the superior smile, the clever one liner, are the signs of intelligence and great personal strength…Be kind. Mean is easy; kind is hard.” And 11 other rules for life after you’re 45. (Bloomberg)
“Happy families are indeed all alike in calling forth the best of their members’ humanity, in teaching them the arts of peace and kindness.” A Harmony in Living. (Lapham’s Quarterly)
Recommended Listening / Reading
“If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him.” — Mohandas Gandhi, 1913
🎧 This week, I have the humble honor of recommending an episode from my own podcast, Timeless Leadership. I interviewed Dave Delaney, creator of the Nice Method™, the Nice Podcast, and the Nice Maker newsletter. We talked about the role of kindness in business and how we can think about being more deliberate in our approach.
Essential links from the episode:
New Business Networking (Dave’s book)
📚 Irrational Kindness: The Crazy Pursuit of an Extraordinary Life can serve as a harmonious reminder that one’s hopes and dreams do not have to be derailed―not by their fears, their pasts, or by people who make them feel like they have to know everything to be successful, or even just to get started. Throughout its pages, Kevin Williams provides the inspiration everyone needs to favor understanding over being understood and prioritize kindness―toward themselves as well as others―over everything.
Disclosure: Amazon Affiliate link. I receive a small commission when you make a purchase.
Thanks, and I’ll see you on the internet.