Kindness is a fundamental human value. All cultures, each in its own way, value kindness as is evident in the recurrence of the theme of kindness in folk wisdom and lore. The religions of the world also value kindness as seen in the occurrence of the theme of kindness in sacred texts and moral codes.
From a sociological perspective kindness has a desirability that promotes social cohesion and harmony. It is socially advantageous to be kind and to be seen and known to be kind. From an evolutionary perspective, kindness must have developed because it tended to promote survival and increase the chances of finding a mate. Those individuals that were perceived to be kind had a chance to reproduce and pass on their genes.
From a psychological perspective, kindness has both interpersonal and social effects. The interpersonal effects of kindness are similar to the social effects and can be seen in improved and stronger relationships with others. The interpersonal effects of kindness are in the reflexive nature of virtue. The outward practice of kindness can be associated with its inward practice. The inward practice of kindness is kindness to oneself. If there is a disparity between the outward and inward practice of kindness there is an incongruence or a dissonance which can be distressful to the individual.
From a humanistic existential point of view, practicing kindness might create a sense of cohesion and authenticity which facilitates self-awareness, self-efficacy, freedom, responsibility and reduction in anxiety or existential angst. Kindness can help self-realisation and self-fulfilment. Successfully practicing acts of kindness can be rewarding and can increase the sense of personal agency and self-worth.
From a positive psychology perspective kindness promotes a positive attitude and a strength-based approach. From an emotional intelligence perspective kindness increases the experience of positive emotions and attracts positive emotional feedback from others. A mindfulness perspective sees the practice of kindness as both an act of mindfulness and a result of mindfulness. Thinking about kindness is a healthy metacognitive practice. Thinking and practicing kindness can create a mental schema, through which reality can be filtered in a way that encourages positive feelings and functional behaviours.
The therapeutic implications of kindness can be numerous. Broaching the subject of kindness in therapy can positively impact the therapeutic relationship, if the client can perceive and experience the therapist to be kind and to value kindness. If the therapist is genuinely kind they can model kindness for the benefit of the client. Discussing with clients their beliefs and attitudes about kindness can be insightful and provide useful diagnostic information. If the client has beliefs of kindness as weakness or not worthwhile, the therapist can normalise and validate the client’s experiences, challenge and reframe the belief, and provide evidence-based information for the practice of kindness.
The theme of kindness is related to other virtues and discussing it in a therapy session can open the way to considering the other related virtues that can facilitate positive growth and well-being.
Finally, the therapist’s own experience and practice in their own life can contribute to their own self-care and well-being, as well as their ethical and professional practice. Some of the fundamental ethical principles of the helping professions such as trustworthiness, autonomy, beneficence and non-maleficence, justice, and self-respect have a salient connection with the idea and practice of kindness.
Kindness to oneself and to others is good for mental health.
Author: William Guri, Psychotherapist at InsideOut