"I'm not a smart man but I know what love is." -- Forrest Gump
When I was in school, kindness never seemed to be valued by the teachers. What was valued were grades -- being smart. Obviously today, with the rampant prevalence of bullying, being kind still doesn't have a high priority. So many other things seem to have far more value -- being powerful and in control, being famous, being brilliant, being rich and successful. Whether on the school playground or in business or government, being smart and in control is given a higher value than caring and kindness. In fact, being a caring and kind person seems to have acquired a bad rap:
- If I'm kind, I will be duped and taken advantage of.
- If I'm kind, people will see me as weak and not respect me.
Why is kindness linked with weakness? Is it possible to be kind as well as smart, successful and powerful? Are they mutually exclusive?
Of course, the answer to the last question is "no" -- these qualities are not mutually exclusive at all. Let's see why.
1. Happiness, Joy and Inner Fullness
One of my favorite movies, which we see every Christmas Eve, is A Christmas Carol with Alastair Sim -- who does an incredible job of playing Ebenezer Scrooge. For most of the movie, he is a power-hungry rich miser who cares for no one. Once the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future show him what he has been denying, he changes from being a totally miserable, empty man to being a light and joyous man, filled to the brim with loving kindness. I am always thrilled to see the moment of his redemption!
Kindness to ourselves and with others takes away emptiness, replacing it with the fullness of love, inner peace and a sense of personal power.
2. Personal Power -- Power Within Versus Power Over
Just because Scrooge became kind rather than miserly and controlling, doesn't mean he became weak. In fact, he became filled with personal power -- the power that comes from truly valuing oneself. We value our intrinsic selves when we are kind and caring. When we are mean, controlling, miserly and always having to win and be right, we create an inner emptiness that leads to a lack of self-worth.
Gary, one of my clients, is a very smart and financially successful man. His millions give him a lot of power over others and over situations. Gary lives in a big house, drives expensive cars, and has a beautiful wife and three lovely children. Yet Gary often feels anxious and empty inside. He lives in fear of being rejected and taken advantage of. Gary tries to protect himself from what he fears by being harsh and judgmental toward himself and others -- his way of maintaining power and control. With all his millions, Gary consistently experiences low self-worth, which is the consequence of his harsh self-judgment.
Being kind scares Gary. He is certain that if he is kind to others, they will think less of him. But the result of his lack of kindness is that he has very few friends.
The problem lies in the fact that Gary has never learned to be kind to himself. It is his harsh self-judgments that make him inwardly weak and afraid of being used and rejected. His self-judgments create his feelings of never being good enough, so he has to achieve more, make more money and appear smarter to appease the anxiety and emptiness that result from his self-judgments. Gary is constantly trying to have power over others because he actually has no personal power.
Personal power is the result of knowing and valuing your intrinsic qualities -- your caring and compassion, your unique forms of intelligence, your unique forms of creativity. Personal power is the result of knowing that you are a good person -- that you are worth loving. We achieve personal power when we learn how to take loving care of ourselves and share our love with others, and when we can stay centered and connected within even in the face of others' unloving, rejecting behavior.
We are weak when we think so little of ourselves that we allow others to use and abuse us. We are powerful when we have the courage to take kind, loving action in our own behalf and in behalf of others, which includes being so inwardly centered that we no longer allow others' beliefs and behavior toward us to define our worth. There is no way we can achieve this level of personal power without kindness toward ourselves and others. No matter how smart and successful you are, if you are unkind to yourself and others, you may continue to feel empty and anxious within. You may never feel consistently full of love and joy within until you make kindness toward yourself and others your highest priority.
Are you afraid to do this? You might want to explore your false beliefs about kindness, and where you got these beliefs. You cannot feel full within and personally powerful as long as your fears of being weak and taken advantage of control your life. We cannot be personally powerful and come from fear at the same time. We are personally powerful when being kind is more important than what others think of us -- more important than being seen as smart, more important than having power over others, more important than huge wealth, more important than being right.
3. Loving Relationships
Having counseled couples for 44 years, I know that kindness -- not money, fame, controlling behavior, being right or being smart -- is an essential ingredient in creating loving relationships.
However, it's very important to understand that it's not just kindness to others that creates loving relationships. First and foremost, you need to learn to be kind and caring toward yourself. If you are kind to others but harsh and judgmental toward yourself, you are emotionally abandoning yourself, which is the single most prevalent cause of relationship failure.
4. Kindness is a Powerful Route to Success
In the excellent book, Good To Great, the author Jim Collins presents his research on major companies that went from good to great, as well as research on companies that never became great. He was surprised to find that much of the success of the great companies had to do with the CEOs' kindness and caring. He wrote about the steel giant, Nucor:
Executives did not receive better benefits than frontline workers. In fact, executives had fewer perks. For example, all workers (but not executives) were eligible to receive $2,000 per year for each child for up to four years of post-high school education. In one incident, a man came to [Nucor Executive] Marvin Pohlman and said, "I have nine kids. Are you telling me that you'll pay for four years of school -- college, trade school, whatever -- for every single one of my kids?" Pohlman acknowledged that, yes, that's exactly what would happen. 'The man just sat there and cried,' said Pohlman. "I'll never forget it. It just captures in one moment so much of what we were trying to do."
5. Impact on the World
Just as violence often breeds more violence, kindness often leads to more kindness. Individuals such as Mother Teresa and Gandhi have had a huge impact on the world with their kindness. Each one of us has the opportunity to impact many people with our kindness toward ourselves and others.
6. Connection With Spirit
It is my experience, in working with thousands of people over these many years, that those who learn to be kind to themselves and others have an easy time accessing their spiritual guidance -- whatever this is for them. Whether they experience it as God, energy, inner wisdom, intuition, higher self, universal intelligence -- they have an easy time experiencing their higher source of wisdom, love and guidance.
The six reasons above show how kindness and love have a positive effect on all areas of our lives. But it doesn't stop there. I believe that when we die our soul does not die, but leaves our body and goes back to the spiritual realm. I believe that we are asked one question: "How kind were you -- how well did you love?" We are not asked how much money we made, how big our house was, how famous we were, or how many people admired us.
How would you answer this question today?
Margaret Paul, Ph.D. is a relationship expert, best-selling author, and co-creator of the powerful Inner Bonding® self-healing process, recommended by actress Lindsay Wagner and singer Alanis Morissette, and featured on Oprah. To begin learning how to love and connect with yourself so that you can connect with others, take advantage of our free Inner Bonding eCourse, receive Free Help, and take our 12-Week eCourse, "The Intimate Relationship Toolbox" - the first two weeks are free! Phone or Skype sessions with Dr. Margaret Paul.
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 Collins, Jim. Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap... and Others Don't. New York: HarperBusiness, 2001. p. 137.
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