First off, I want to say that I think that it’s wonderful that the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation teaches children the importance of being kind, and I very much agree with the idea that kindness is contagious (in fact, it’s been backed up by science). However, the randomness factor is one I never understood. Showing kindness is not a random act, and it doesn’t even need to be a selfless one. Many studies have demonstrated helping people not only makes them happier, it also makes you happier. This led me to the belief that being compassionate and being logical are actually the same thing. So why are we labeling acts of kindness as “random”? Here are some reasons why I think we need to look at kindness from a more strategic perspective:
#1: Kindness isn’t pointless.
To say that an act of kindness is “random” neglects the idea that kindness can (and should) be goal-oriented. When you are nice to someone, is that really a random act, or are you nice to them for a reason? If I give food to a hungry person, is it random, or is it because I feel empathy for them and don’t want them to suffer? When teaching kindness to children, you shouldn’t just teach them that kind behavior is better – you have to teach them why it is better. This will not only help the lesson stick, but it gives them a real understanding of the motivations behind the action, and encourages the development of empathy.
#2: Kindness demands a strategy to be effective.
Good intentions aren’t everything when it comes to kindness, lest we confuse intent with impact. Performing a random act of kindness may benefit someone, or it may not. For example, if a friend needs emotional support through a crisis, it’s very easy to say the wrong thing. You may think it is helpful to give them advice, but they may just want to be listened to, and you could accidentally make them feel worse. If you really want to make a positive impact in an individual’s life, you may have to consult some expert resources (like the time I talked to a therapist about how to be a supportive friend), or think about things from another person’s perspective. Big-picture efforts to solve large social problems through the power of philanthropy and activism require even more strategy, but they are far from impossible. In fact, the idea that poverty and other social problems are inevitable is declining almost as fast as these problems themselves (including poverty, the infant mortality rate, and infectious diseases).
#3: There’s nothing wrong with feeling good about yourself.
It is human nature to feel good about yourself when you do something nice for someone else. So why do we expect kindness to be a purely selfless act? Dan Pallotta suggests that the idea that the separation of profit-making, self-interested activity from charity comes from the Puritans, and that this has bled into the way Americans think about charity (which is dead wrong). This is an outdated way of thinking. Instead of saying that kindness is purely random, let’s focus on the fact that our happiness and the happiness of the people around us are deeply intertwined.
Want more tips on how to be kind in a strategic way? My Advice & Tips articles will help you incorporate kindness into all aspects of your life. Thanks for reading!