How many ways can you show that you care? The answer is a stream of answers. You probably know the litany: remembering a birthday, calling to check on a sick friend or relative, extending yourself on the street to someone in need, volunteering in your community, listening to another person’s problems and responding with words to soothe and encourage. And so on and so on.
But there are often situations where you want to extend yourself and just do not know how. It can be sensitive: a friend has lost a job, someone you know is grieving for a loved one, a terminal diagnosis was received. These are times to reach inside yourself for strength and courage to show your support and give of yourself. Not everyone can provide financial help but we all have internal resources. You may have time, knowledge, energy, skills that can be useful. Take a pause to reflect on what could be of value to that person and how you can deliver it. Creativity is important here. There are dynamics to give appropriately because it necessitates reflection about the person, the circumstance and your resources. And yes, there is risk as well as benefits. You are stepping outside your comfort zone to help affect positive change. “Giving is a risky business, as is any action that creates a relation with another human being. Those who prefer safety are unlikely to go out to others in the spontaneous way that generosity requires,” says Ted Malloch in his book Being Generous who donates its proceeds to www.GlobalGiving.org
It’s interesting that both compassion and caring can be passive. You can think about someone and feel compassion, likewise you may care about someone and simply have that caring in your heart. Caring is a feeling that you hold inside you; it does not require action. You can care deeply for someone and not actively do anything. Kindness is action taken because of caring. As a result of caring, you extend yourself in an act of kindness.
Consider Karen Armstrong who began Charter for Compassion (http://charterforcompassion.org) which encourages not just thoughts but acts of compassion. The charter is “Born of our deep interdependence, compassion is essential to human relationships and to a fulfilled humanity. It is the path to enlightenment, and indispensible to the creation of a just economy and a peaceful global community.” Individuals can log in and tell their stories; some now include repairing bicycles, baby sitting, giving a hug to a crying man and many more touching vignettes (http://charterforcompassion.org/act/#). People are taking responsibility to reach out to others, make a difference and share their stories.
Oprah Winfrey is a leader in bringing compassion and kindness to thousands of people. Whether it’s partnering to give away cars, building a school in South Africa or simply interviewing people who have had difficult times, Oprah makes relating to people a feel good experience. Her Angel Network (http://www.oprah.com/angel_network.html) was established to foster the movement of giving to others.
While all of this may appear purely sociological, there are physiological components and benefits. Paul Zak, a neuroeconomist, studied generosity and found a link to hormonal levels of oxytocin (http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-moral-molecule/200911/the-science-generosity). He says “Oxytocin connects us to others and social connections are a powerful way to increase one's own happiness. If you want to connect to others, being generous is a great start.”
At the National Institutes of Health, neuroscientist Jordan Grafman sees definitive changes in brain scans. "Those brain structures that are activated when you get a reward are the same ones that are activated when you give. In fact, they're activated more." Another study looked at former heart patients at Duke University Medical Center who volunteered to visit heart patients currently in treatment and offer support. They found that volunteers who participated in this program enjoyed healthier lives after their heart attacks.
So if you are looking to do good and feel great, extend yourself to help others. It’s a simple remedy for living well and making our society a better place.
Scott Adams, creator of DILBERT:
Remember there's no such thing as a small act of kindness. Every act creates a ripple with no logical end.
Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.