Kindness: The Best Response to Suffering

Kindness:  the quality of being friendly, generous, and considerate.  A benevolent action on behalf of another.

As soon as we take our first life-giving breath we begin a miraculous journey, that, if we’re lucky, will be filled with moments of wonder, awe and delight.  In that first breath and with every breath that follows we’re also taking in the certainty that life will offer us some share of suffering:  pain, loss, disappointment.  Suffering is the opportunity cost of being human.  Suffering is part of every human life—from big suffering caused by serious illness, tragic accidents, gun violence, and wasteful wars to smaller suffering like disappointments, conflicts, failures.  To accept life requires us also to accept some degree of suffering. 

We’ve all been through a lot in the last few years—a pandemic that took 1,000,000 lives in the US, and now inflation creating serious financial strain, a war in Ukraine and a terrifying surge in mass shootings and an overall increase in gun violence in many major American cities.

Kindness is a critical force in counteracting the negative effects of whatever challenging circumstances life presents.  While nothing can make us immune to the stressors and dangers around us, human kindness certainly diminishes the negative effects of human suffering.  While the news may be filled with stories of murder, violence and selfishness most human beings at heart are helpful and supportive to others.  Cruelty and crime make the headlines precisely because they are exceptions.  The world goes on because we care for one another.  Kindness provides strength that enables people to survive and recover and thrive. 

Kindness is an interactive relational act that has the potential to relieve suffering in both the giver and receiver.  Being kind to others is good for us.  Studies show that kinder behavior is linked to having fewer health problems and significantly improves overall physical well-being and can reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression.  Even those who aren’t actual participants in a kindness exchange but only witness or learn of an act of kindness bestowed on someone else can be calmed, comforted and strengthened by the powerfully positive transformative energy of kindness in action. Even just the memory of an act of kindness extended to us in the past can move us out of a present moment of pain and sorrow.   The expression of kindness in a simple soothing word, a smile from a stranger or a generous surprising action has the power to offer hope and ease some of the unavoidable suffering comes as part of the package of living a human life.

Behaving towards another with kindness requires little else but deliberate intention.  We can be kind to someone else even if we don’t like them or if we disagree with them.  When we practice kindness, we create a space for peace and hope and healing.  Think about moments in your life where there’s been tension or conflict with someone else and think about how kindness in words and actions could have positively transformed the interaction to be less painful even if the tension or conflict wasn’t resolved.

The world is full of pain and suffering that we are powerless to eliminate and kindness is the most powerful and easily accessible remedy to reduce the hurt of human suffering.  At this challenging moment in human history, kindness is not a luxury, it is a necessity.  Research has shown that people tend to feel happier and less stressed after they have done something kind for someone else.  Putting kindness out into the world not only creates a more enjoyable environment for everyone around you but also makes your own life better.  We all have the power to turn someone’s day around and do good for ourselves in the process.  Practice kindness and see what happens in your life.

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