“No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.”
— Aesop, Ancient Greek fabulist
“You’re much too nice,” said his boss. “You let people walk all over you.”
“You’re much nicer than I am,” said his friend. “I would have told that SOB off.”
“You’re such a nice guy,” said the girl of his dreams. “Someday you’ll find someone.”
As these examples suggest, sometimes, being really nice isn’t the greatest quality one could posses.
Before I began my journey of self-esteem building, I was a really nice guy. Not to say that I’m no longer courteous or pleasant, but a shift has occurred over the years.
You see, I was nice because I wanted everyone to like me. I was a people-pleaser who allowed himself to be stepped on and pushed around by everyone. I had desperately poor self-esteem and an unhealthy need for approval and validation. So, I decided one day that I was no longer going to be nice.
No, instead of nice, I would choose a more empowered alternative. I decided to be kind.
It’s interesting to note that being nice is defined as being pleasant, pleasing or agreeable while being kind is defined as being tolerant, forgiving, empathetic and compassionate.
Allow me to clarify. There’s nothing wrong with being nice. It’s actually a noble and virtuous quality. Being really nice is another story. At the root of extreme niceness are often feelings of inadequacy and worthlessness. Lacking a healthy sense of self, really nice people may find themselves in co-dependent relationships. They can become easy prey for users and abusers.
Kindness — on the other hand — emerges when people feels confident, empowered and comfortable in their own skin. Truly kind people have no hidden agenda — no underlying need for approval or validation. They are loving and giving out of the goodness of their heart.
Since making that decision, I’ve worked hard to make kindness an integral part of my daily routine. I now try to practise kindness in all of my daily encounters with people, whether at work or home, at the grocery store or just passing someone on the sidewalk.
I remember someone telling me once that kindness was like a snowball tossed down a hill — rolling, growing and gaining momentum. Each unselfish act or kind word is like another snowflake ultimately creating something much larger than the small initial effort put forth.
When you add honesty to kindness, you create a potent combination. Together, they make you feel good about yourself and help to build trust and rapport with others. Both improve our relationships with others and ourselves. And now there’s evidence to suggest that kindness is also good for our health. A study by Stanford University’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education found that an act of kindness is often followed by a rush of euphoria and subsequent period of calmness and general well-being. Researchers coined the term “helper’s high” to describe this sensation resulting from the release of endorphins.
The bulk of the information derived from the study appears focused on the impact of kindness on the health care system. Medical treatment and consultation can seem cold and dispassionate, but the introduction of kindness into the equation can yield some unusual results.
The study found that when health care was delivered with kindness and compassion, patients actually healed faster, experienced reduced pain and enjoyed shorter hospital stays. When doctors and health care providers began to embrace kindness as a core value, the results were even more astounding.
Patients were twice as likely to follow the advice of a kind and compassionate physician as one who came across as cold and detached. They were also more willing to divulge pertinent information necessary for an accurate diagnosis. Surgical patients were discharged sooner from the hospital, healed faster and required up to 50 per cent fewer pain narcotics. Patients in emergency rooms were less stressed and more co-operative.
When caregivers delivered kind and compassionate care, patients experienced less anxiety and lower diastolic blood pressure during periods of stress. There was even the suggestion that kindness-oriented care could be as effective as daily aspirin for reducing heart attacks.
When the climate shifted to one of kindness within health care organizations, workers claimed to feel more appreciated and engaged and less stressed and exhausted. Absenteeism dropped, work engagement increased as did employee well-being and commitment.
At the very least, the study demonstrated that kindness is more than a warm and fuzzy afterthought — an off-shoot of being nice — but an indispensable part of the healing process. I have discovered that kindness is also an indispensable part of self-esteem building. For many people who suffer with low self-esteem, the idea of being kind and compassionate to themselves is a foreign concept. But it is only when we understand and embrace the idea of self-love that we can begin to shift our self-concept. I have discovered the more comfortable and caring I am with myself, the more lovingly I speak to and treat myself, the more tolerance, forgiveness, empathy and compassion I have for others. Really nice? Not so much. Kind? Most assuredly.
“If you cannot do a kind deed,” wrote Reverend and author, Lawrence G. Lovasik, “speak a kind word. If you cannot speak a kind word, think a kind thought. Count up, if you can, the treasure of happiness that you would dispense in a week, in a year, in a lifetime!”
The really nice person must learn that healthy self-esteem is never acquired by pleasing others. It can only be found in honestly identifying one’s own needs and feelings and then learning to validate and approve of oneself. Kind people understand the concept of self-care. They treat themselves with respect and expect it from others. They’re concerned for the welfare of others, but don’t get caught up in user-pleaser relationships. They set healthy boundaries. Kind people are happy people, and that happiness is enhanced through acts of generosity and selflessness.
Murray Fuhrer is a self-esteem expert and facilitator. His recent book is entitled Extreme Esteem: The Four Factors. For more information on self-esteem, check the Extreme Esteem website at www.extremeesteem.ca.