The Importance of Kindness

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One of the keys to a good life and possibly success at work is kindness. This includes not just being kind to other people but kind to oneself.

Often we spend our time regretting, self-flagellating, doubting our decisions and wondering if we can ever measure up -- especially in a world filled with standards and measures that are unattainable. In today’s competitive marketplace of rapidly transforming landscapes and constant benchmarking we often forget that we are dealing not just with buyers, sellers, users, members, competitors, analysts, scientists, management and employees but with analog, carbon-based, feeling-filled people.

Humans. Messy and moody. Dream-filled and desire-driven.. Anxiously ambitious. Undulating with uncertainty.

Kindness is a way to connect in a world where connections are key -- but it's not easy to model in an Excel spreadsheet, display in a PowerPoint or be described with any depth by GPT.

The machine will rapidly compute an answer, garland it with perspective, refine and correlate what has been fed into its innards, and then emit an output in a dazzling display of verbosity. Answers that may awe us. But rarely move us.

Below are three takes on kindness. From GPT-4, author George Saunders and poet Naomi Shihab Nye.

Take 1: GPT-4 on Kindness

Prompt: What is kindness?

Kindness is a type of behavior marked by acts of generosity, consideration, or concern for others, without expecting praise or reward. It is often considered a virtue and is recognized in many cultures and religions as an important value. Kindness can manifest in many ways, including but not limited to:

  1. Helping others: This could involve assisting someone with their work, offering to carry heavy items, or helping someone cross the street. The act doesn't have to be grand to be kind.
  2. Complimenting or praising someone: Words of affirmation can have a huge impact on someone's day. Complimenting someone genuinely can be a simple yet effective act of kindness.
  3. Empathy and understanding: Kindness often involves understanding other people's perspectives and feelings. This could mean listening to someone when they're having a hard time, or refraining from judgment when someone makes a mistake.
  4. Patience: Patience, especially when dealing with difficult people or situations, can be a significant act of kindness. It involves tempering your reaction, even when you're frustrated or angry.
  5. Charitable giving: This is another classic example of kindness. Donating to a cause you believe in, volunteering your time, or even just offering someone a meal can all be acts of kindness.
  6. Showing respect: Treating everyone with respect, regardless of their background or beliefs, is an act of kindness. This could involve simple things like saying "please" and "thank you," or more complex acts like promoting inclusivity and fairness.

In essence, kindness involves treating others the way you'd like to be treated. It's a simple concept but can have a profound impact on the world.

Take 2: Author George Saunders on Kindness

The author George Saunders gave a short and remarkable speech on the importance of kindness which everyone should listen to. (Here is the video.) A key theme is "to err in the direction of kindness."

Some key passages of his talk to students:

“When young, we’re anxious -- understandably -- to find out if we’ve got what it takes. Can we succeed? Can we build a viable life for ourselves? But you -- in particular you, of this generation -- may have noticed a certain cyclical quality to ambition. You do well in high school, in hopes of getting into a good college, so you can do well in the good college, in the hopes of getting a good job, so you can do well in the good job so you can . . .

"And this is actually OK. If we’re going to become kinder, that process has to include taking ourselves seriously -- as doers, as accomplishers, as dreamers. We have to do that, to be our best selves.

"Still, accomplishment is unreliable. 'Succeeding,' whatever that might mean to you, is hard, and the need to do so constantly renews itself (success is like a mountain that keeps growing ahead of you as you hike it), and there’s the very real danger that 'succeeding' will take up your whole life, while the big questions go untended.

"Do all the other things, the ambitious things -- travel, get rich, get famous, innovate, lead, fall in love, make and lose fortunes, swim naked in wild jungle rivers (after first having it tested for monkey poop) -- but as you do, to the extent that you can, err in the direction of kindness."

Later, George was interviewed on this talk which went viral after it was posted in the New York Times on why kindness was important. Here is what he said:

"Ninety-nine percent of the time if you just do your best to be kind, you’re better off. It’s the basic things, like trying to have good manners, keeping your assumptions about the other person a little open, being willing to revise your opinion.

"Perhaps it’s all a self-fulfilled prophecy. We live in an unkind world because we believe it’s an unkind world.

"The thing I’ve noticed is that if you go out into the world ready for confrontation, then confrontations find you. But if you go out with a sort of diffusing energy, the world reads that and feels more friendly toward you. So I think there’s a circular effect.

"In the media and in our political rhetoric, we’re told don’t be a sucker, be firm, be strong, push back, they’re trying to get you. If you buy into that -- even on a molecular level -- the world smells it on you. Whereas -- and here’s where it sounds corny -- the world responds to you differently if you go out thinking, alright, I’m going to pretend that everybody out there is my brother or my sister, and if they are temporarily behaving like they’re not, I’m going to pretend that they’re just confused. I’m going to insist, through my mannerisms and my tone of voice, that I see them at their highest."

Take 3: The Poet Naomi Shihab Nye on Kindness


Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to gaze at bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.

From Words Under the Words: Selected Poems. Copyright © 1995 by Naomi Shihab Nye

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