We know that receiving kindness feels good and that sharing kindness is good for us. In addition to the benefits and “feel-good” of being kind, it also has a multiplying effect. How do we have a bigger impact beyond just the direct sharers of kindness?
Habits and thoughts are frequently results of routine and momentum of previous behavior that carries on. We have heard of the vicious cycle, which describes the spiral downward of a series of behaviors that continually create the situation for worse and worse behaviors.
Kindness allows us to break the cycle of negative interactions and begin a virtuous cycle. The same principle of accumulation and inertia that results in more of the same, applies to the virtuous cycle of kindness. By putting more kindness into the world, it is more likely to be spread.
The multiplier effect happens here because humans are social creatures who learn and respond by imitation and reciprocation. Even small touches of kindness can ripple through the receivers and the witnesses of the act of kindness and then continue to additional people who they interact with afterwards.
In the same way violence and hate are considered ‘contagious’ and have been studied in parallel to viruses and diseases. Where there is contact, there is contagion. Kindness transmits under much the same behavioral processes.
When we see someone be kind, we are more likely to smile at the next one who passes us. When we feel seen and heard because someone has been kind enough to take time to dedicate to us, we are more likely to have patience with someone along our path.
Kindness also functions as a behavior that can be taught and reinforced by example. We learn by watching, and this extends well beyond our childhood. When we see the positive interactions and benefits that come from sharing kindness, we are more likely to emulate them. It is also very hard to give something you have never received, or to do something you have never had done before.
When we think about it in this way, we realize that every time we do something kind we are gifting the possibility for others to do the same. Essentially with our actions, we are inviting people to do the same. Leading by example may feel like a tough decision at times, but it sets of a chain of events that should reinforce the positive interactions.
We also reinforce behaviors when we see others in our community and culture acting in a certain way. In a very deep way, kindness is community building. It restores faith and trust among those who are nearest and sometimes most able to support one another. It also builds community through a set of shared values and defines a community as united and cohesive. The cohesion does not come from coercion but instead of respect and a desire for sharing with those who actually value and respect one another.
So when you carry out acts of kindness, you are contributing to building a culture of kindness where we all participate in a community of support. Building a culture is both very straight forward and rational, as well as fragile and requiring great care.
For example, being treated unfairly after doing something kind could potentially reverse a person’s desire to continue sharing kindness in such an open way. For this reason, with every act of kindness, we build and strengthen the fabric of culture that allows us to work as a team or as a community towards a more pleasant, supportive, and equitable lifestyle. It truly requires all of us to do our part and continue acting, and therefore promoting, with kindness, inclusion, sharing and benevolence.
Cultural practices frequently convert to cultural expectations when everyone plays their part. This works for cultural practices that may be questionable depending on your perspective, but it also works for the important goal of disseminating kindness and generating more good acts in the world.
If we hope to spread kindness, the best place to start is with ourselves. In understanding that kindness is contagious, and that kindness is a virtuous cycle. Once we start the momentum of spreading kindness, it can grow to a strength that builds the feeling of community and comes installed as a cultural practice and expectation.