Developing Kindness

Photo by Dayne Topkin on Unsplash

The other night, I was in a fast-food drive-through and the person helping me was standing out in the cold. It was one of those colds that doesn’t seem *that* bad at first but it creeps in on you. I mean, it’s Texas, and we’re not used to basically any cold. But when you’re just standing in it for hours on end, a windy 50 degrees is going to be uncomfortable for pretty much anybody. Luckily, they were decked out in appropriate restaurant provided attire; gloves, winter hat, and everything.

No, this post is not about the weather.

I saw them standing there and thought for just a second, “it isn’t that cold outside….” But then I shut that thought train down because that is the old me. Not that I ever would have said it, I don’t think… but I would have for sure thought it and probably would have followed that thought with an eye roll. 

Instead, I shifted my thought process to, “this kinda sucks, especially considering how little they’re paid to stand out here in the (Texas version of) cold and listen to people bark orders at them all night.” 

I wanted to extend a statement acknowledging that it was cold and I hope that they weren’t too uncomfortable because of it. (Also, something I wouldn’t have done before.) Instead, I decided to thank them and told them to have a good night. Again, kind of a new thing for me. 

Not that I don’t always say thank you, but it used to be the same half-hearted thank you that I would understandably receive from most of them. I’d mumble it as I’m grabbing the bag and already taking my foot off the break. 

Now, I take the time to look at them and sincerely thank them. You’d be surprised how much it makes a difference to some of them. 

I mentioned all this to my amazing partner, Melissa (who happens to edit all this, so we will see if this even makes the cut), and we had an interesting conversation concerning kindness. 

I asked her if she thought I was kinder than I used to be. She said, “I think you’re definitely more polite than you used to be, but I’ve always thought you were kind to people you care about.”

We chatted for a while about how we both think politeness and kindness are very different and not necessarily congruous things. 

In our opinion, politeness is mostly verbal and shallow. Kindness is emotional and intentional. You can be both, and many people are. But even sociopaths are capable of being polite. 

For most of us, it’s just a thing we’re supposed to be. And that leads to some disingenuity a lot of times.

However, when you increase your awareness of others, politeness tends to come naturally. That’s how it’s been for me anyway. And when it’s no longer a forced thing you “have to do,” it’s no longer shallow.

See, caring about others is something that I haven’t always been very good at. My personality has always pushed my brain to focus so much on tasks, information, and being something that doesn’t come naturally to me, it left little room for caring about many people outside of my circle. 

That lack of caring leads to a lack of trying to be polite. 

It also makes it very easy to judge others. I can be very judgy. Sure, I’m human, and most of us are judgy. (Whether we all admit it is another thing entirely.) 

But the more I work on my mindset and self-awareness, the more I try to stop mentally judging people, asking, “why would you do that?” or “what are they thinking!?” When those kinds of questions and judgments creep in, I replace them with, “I wonder if I would do the same in their position?”

That is the definition of empathy and is a core component of how I sell. And while I’ve been decent about it in my sales conversations for quite some time, it’s always been easier because I turn it into a task. If I’m empathetic about their issues, then I can dig deeper into what they are, discuss how I can help them, and hopefully close a deal that makes me money.

There’s genuine empathy there, but the task side of it makes it more approachable. 

Outside of sales, it’s historically been much harder for me to tap into empathy, even with the people that I do genuinely care about. 

But that’s shifted a lot this year. Not that I’m suddenly Mr. Rogers or anything (although wouldn’t the world be so much better if we all were!), but kindness has slowly creeped into what used to be purely transactional interactions, such as buying and picking up fast food.

I would love to be able to point to something I am working on this year as the “ONE THING YOU NEED TO BE DOING IN YOUR LIFE TO BE MORE KIND,” but I don’t have that. I just notice myself thinking a lot more about the situations that others are going through.

There are certainly things that have helped, most notably journaling. But it’s more than that. I think it might come down to practice. The more aware I am of being mindful about how I talk to and think about people, the easier and more natural it becomes.

Just like with everything else, the more you do it, the less you have to think about it.

A great example of this is learning to accept compliments, especially in certain areas of my life. I know I’m not alone here, but I’ve always struggled with accepting compliments and gratitude. To us, our actions are just actions, but when someone else appreciates those actions, they become valuable. But most of us always feel the need to justify something as being “not that hard” or “just part of my job.”  

The worst example of this for me is when somebody thanks me for my service. Since I was in the reserves and never went overseas, it feels disingenuous when I know that so many soldiers have done much more than I have. I don’t want to tarnish their effort by taking any credit. But to the person who is thanking me for my service, they are just thanking me. Not in relation to anyone else or their efforts, they’re just thanking me for mine.

Why would I water that down with unnecessary explanations? How hard is it to just smile and say “thank you.”

A similar thing happens when I’m coaching or consulting with my clients. My job is to help them with their struggles, and since most people struggle with a collection of the same things, it usually doesn’t take me long to pinpoint the problem so that I can help them with it. In those moments when they are thanking me (sometimes profusely), it’s hard not to water it down and say, “it’s just my job.”

But when you can learn to respond with nothing more than a heartfelt “thank you” and/or “you’re welcome,” it becomes easier to show your appreciation for others. Therefore, when a fast food employee hands me my burger and fries, it’s a lot easier to take the time to genuinely thank them and wish them a good night. 

Kindness also happens when you let go of trying to be something you’re not. 

Even though I’m not by nature the most social guy, I still get really excited to see an old friend when it’s been a while or spend time with a connection that I have a lot in common with. But I used to try not to show that excitement because I thought it would make me seem less cool.

Yes kids, even grown-ups still want to look cool. 

However, when I started spending more time being thoughtful, present, and kind in my conversations, and less time trying to act a certain way, people enjoyed talking to me more. And I enjoyed talking to them more!

Who knew that being more in touch with your emotions made life happier???

Finally, I’ve realized this year, more than ever before, that the right kind of people draw kindness out of you. Due to everything I have going on, between new companies and projects, writing a book, digging in deeper with the podcast thing, I’ve met and connected with some incredible people. With the wonderful people already in my life, all of that great energy and kindness swirling around me makes it almost impossible not to be a kinder, gentler version of myself, and not in an inauthentic way.

If nothing else, I feel like I’m more myself than I’ve ever been. I can put myself out there and not hold anything back. And all of the things that I’ve always tried to hide (like how my self-perceived need to help everybody can come across as controlling, or how my excitement about people, ideas, and hobbies can come on a little strong), are now part of what people like about me. 

There are people out there who will love you for being you. Kind of like how Melissa has always loved me because she knew the real me better than anyone else. But when you put that out into the world and open yourself up like that, kindness and empathy will be much easier to access and spread to those around you.