Kindness: The Heart of the Matter

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Good-Hearted Living(tm) (GHL) is my simple-but-not-easy six-step program for finding happiness, reducing stress, and having more laughter and humor in your life. To borrow a phrase from Joel Goodman, founder of The Humor Project, GHL prevents hardening of the attitudes.

In GHL, Thursdays are for acts of kindness. Kindness is the antidote for meanness and selfishness.

Bob Hope may have been thinking about kindness when he said, “If you haven’t any charity in your heart, you have the worst kind of heart trouble.”

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia: Kindness is the act or the state of being kind —ie. marked by goodness and charitable behavior, mild disposition, pleasantness, tenderness and concern for others. It is known as a virtue, and recognized as a value in many cultures and religions.

An act of kindness can be done with careful planning or on the spur of the moment. When you first start practicing kindness, you may have to be mindful to give it some thought. Eventually, it will become your natural way of life. You can use a simple formula for constructing a spontaneous act of kindness. It might be at work, at home, in the grocery store, or anywhere. Just ask yourself, “What’s one thing I could do to make this person’s life a little bit easier right now?” Then, do it.

Acts of kindness bring immediate benefits to the receiver and the giver, and then ripples of goodness go throughout the world. Recent research strongly suggests that human beings have a healthier physiology when they do kind acts and even when they think kind thoughts. And, remarkably, research shows that people benefit from merely witnessing acts of kindness. How cool is that!

I want to focus in on the special case of kindness in interpersonal communications. Two people have had a profound influence on me in this regard: Virginia Satir, an American author and psychotherapist, and Norman Guitry, founder of the Franklin County (Ohio) Mental Health Association. Satir taught the importance of speaking to the heart’s singular message. Guitry taught that everything we need to know about mental health could be summed up in two words.

Communication between human beings often gets sticky, thorny, confused, angry, hurtful, and otherwise irritating. In an attempt to understand how communications gets so jumbled on a gender basis, a socio-linguist, Deborah Tannen, characterized these problems in the titles of two books which explore what so many of us have experienced, “That’s Not What I Meant” and “You Just Don’t Understand.”

In the mid 1980s, I attended a powerful lecture by Satir, which was life-changing for me. She described a metaphorical model of human communications that struck me as logical and sane. It stuck with me and has proven to be an excellent way of understanding human nature and how to improve communications.

Satir said it is as if the human mind is filled with 10,000 ideas, all buzzing around, all seeking expression. Trying to communicate “from the head” is fraught with complications and gets us tied in knots. The odds are not very good that the one-in-ten-thousand idea in my mind that I am trying to express to you is going to match up with the one-in-ten-thousand ideas in your mind I want to connect with. Mostly, getting you to understand me, or me to understand you, is like looking for a couple of needles in two haystacks of thoughts. 

The good news is that the human heart, on the other hand, has only one message, which is easily understood, and which we can predict with a high probability of success will accurately match up and feel understood when we “speak” to it. And, that message is “Please love me.” That’s what’s in my heart, your heart, and everybody else’s heart, even they have been damaged by abused or otherwise lost sight of it. It may be blocked or camouflaged and seemingly impossible to reach, but it is there at creation and never really goes away.

If we are willing to assumptively “speak” to the one heart message, we will get along better, with far less confusion, because we have reached to the “heart” of the matter of human understanding. We will connect in a positive way, which will make a good basis for working out other differences. We still need several other good communications skills, but the best start is to and from the heart.

From 1973-1976, I was privileged to have Norman Guitry present the opening lecture each year to the incoming class of students in the 2-year Mental Health & Mental Retardation Technology program at Columbus (Ohio) Technical Institute. A man in his seventies, Norm was a man of impressively tall stature, with a strong shock of white hair. Always in a carefully pressed 3-piece suit, he had the bearing of authority, but a twinkle in his eye, and a heart of gold.

Norm’s lecture was,”Everything You Need to Know About Mental Health Can Be Summed Up in Two Words.” He was persuasive in his contention that 90% of the mental health problems would not exist if everybody followed his two-word practice. The two words? “Don’t belittle.”

Don’t put people down. Don’t speak words that diminish another person’s sense of worth or self-esteem. Lift people up. Instead of beating people down because of their weaknesses, help them build up their strengths.

Not only do the most effective interpersonal communications generate greater goodness in the world, they keep us healthier physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually, and they attract more laughter and humor into our lives. Before you even speak one word to another person, you already know that in his or her heart they crave loving acceptance, so keep that heart message in your mind as you speak to them. Eliminate sarcasm and ridicule. Choose your words carefully. Don’t belittle.

I think you will enjoy this video; four minutes of inspiration and quick lessons about kindness.

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About the Author

Steve Wilson

Award-winning psychologist, Steve Wilson, also known as The Joyologist and The Cheerman of the Bored, has spent 30 years specializing in applied and therapeutic humor with a humanitarian mission. As Director of National Humor Month, he intertwines science and ancient wisdom with substance and humor to create practical methods to lead the world to health, happiness and peace through laughter. More than six thousand people have completed his unique training in how to create therapeutic laughter, and tens of thousands more around the world have been uplifted by his talks, classes, books, and articles. He established the World Laughter Tour, Inc., in 1998, to be a rich resource and inspiration for improving productivity, health, and well being in business, healthcare and education. For more information and