One of my daughters once asked me what I thought the most important virtue was that she should try to instill in her children. I answered: kindness.
Certainly, kindness is not the only virtue for which to strive. We also should seek to be honest, loyal, ambitious and hard working, among other qualities.
But, in my opinion, nothing is as important as kindness. It affects not only us, but also, everyone around us. Who we are permeates to everyone and everything with whom and which we interact. If you have kindness in your heart, people can feel that, and you also will reap rewards, both emotionally and physically.
There are many ways in which we should take care of our bodies. We all should make an effort to maintain a proper diet and exercise, but being kind-hearted can help us be physically healthier, too.
Masaru Emoto, a Japanese author and researcher, published several volumes of a work entitled “Messages from Water,” in which he examined the effects of words, photographs and music on crystallized water. His research found that when crystallized water was exposed to violent or negative words, photographs or music – such as verbalized threats or heavy metal music – that crystallized water, when later viewed under a microscope, showed a murky form of asymmetrical shapes. However, when the crystallized water was exposed to kind and peaceful words, photographs or music – such as the word “love” or Mozart music – the crystallized water exhibited beautiful shapes and supreme clarity when later viewed microscopically.
How does this affect our bodies?
The human body consists of about 57 to 60 percent water, so Emoto’s research suggests that if we are filling our bodies with violent or negative thoughts, that action negatively influences the water that is filling our bodies, thereby possibly having a toxic effect on our overall health. But if you are filling your body with kind and happy thoughts, we can experience a positive physical side effect.
Although scientists have tried to debunk Emoto’s work, I believe there is some truth to it. I see the positive effects of kindness in my own life, and I am pleased when I see others performing kind acts.
I was thumbing through a copy of American Life a couple years ago when I came across an article about an organization called Acts of Random Kindness (ARK). A Purdue University student, Alex Radelich, started the group in 2012.
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According to the organization’s website, Radelich got the idea for ARK while watching the comedy movie “Evan Almighty.” In the movie, actor Morgan Freeman, playing the role of God, tells the protagonist, Evan Baxter, played by Steve Carell, that he can change the world with one Act of Random Kindness at a time. Inspired by the scene, Radelich dropped out of college and launched ARK. Radelich and 3 of his friends lead this group.
Radelich and his team won a $10,000 grant from KIND Snacks, which supports causes like ARK, and the ARK team traveled the country for 6 weeks performing random acts of kindness – some big, some small – for people and encouraging others to do the same.
When I read about the story of Radelich and ARK, I was moved.
There are many excellent service organizations, such as Peace Corps and Doctors without Borders, that include volunteers traveling to tackle big challenges head-on to help people across the globe. The work of those organizations is important. However, not all of us are in a position in our lives to join such organizations. ARK reminds us that we also can help people we come into contact with on a daily basis, and we do not have to belong to any organization to do so. Any of us can perform a random act of kindness for someone every day.
Often, when people are asked to do something, they wonder, “What’s in it for me?”
So, what’s in it for you to be kind?
Beside the physical benefits you will experience, you also will receive an emotional payoff.
When you perform an act of kindness for someone, you actually are giving 2 gifts – the gift of kindness you performed for the recipient, and the gift of happiness for yourself.
I know that first-hand, because I feel it all the time. As I grow older, I realize you really need to have kindness and compassion toward other people, because I believe that the giver of that goodness is actually the winner – or at least a dual winner. You make yourself happier.
Earlier this year, I canceled a surgery with my doctor. After talking with my husband, we decided it was not the right time to have the surgery. We did not reach this decision until the last minute. The surgery already had been scheduled. I knew this would cause some inconveniences at the hospital, and I asked my doctor about that. She told me it would cause the most trouble for the woman who was in charge of scheduling the surgery and lining up the personnel to perform the surgery.
Although I could not take away her stress or extra work I caused by canceling the surgery, I knew I could at least perform an act of kindness to show I was sorry for the trouble I had caused.
I went to the nursery connected with the florist I use, and I spent 2½ hours picking out the flowers for 2 arrangements – one for my doctor and one for the woman in charge of scheduling. I majored in art in college, so I enjoy participating in the assembling of floral arrangements. I know the mood I want to convey with the flowers, and I make the color and flower choices to convey this message.
I personally delivered the arrangements to the two women.
The woman in charge of scheduling was very surprised and said the arrangement was not necessary, but she was thrilled to receive it. I did not have the chance to speak with my doctor, but she later called and left a message saying it was the prettiest flower arrangement she had seen in a long time.
I personally received no material gift, but my act of kindness had given me something. I felt happy.
As we age, it might be difficult for some of us to volunteer in service organizations. We often have neither the strength nor the time to help build a house for someone in need or travel overseas to provide relief in other countries. However, that is not an excuse not to help people or exhibit kindness.
Put it to the test.
Try performing one act of kindness for someone every day for a week and see how it makes you feel. I predict you will enjoy the rewards you experience in your own life, along with helping others.
Vera Koo is a first-generation Chinese American woman. She’s a wife and mother, author, entrepreneur and retired competition shooter. Along with two published books -- "The Most Unlikely Champion" and "Wisdom and Things: Essays From an Unlikely Champion" -- she writes her column, Vera Koo, at "Women’s Outdoor News." View all posts by Vera Koo
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