It’s a phrase I spontaneously created in 2009 when an interviewer asked about my contributions to a charity. Although it was a quick creative response, in retrospect it was an important one.
We live in extraordinary times. With the economy lagging and joblessness, mortgage defaults and bankruptcies at high levels, many people are still struggling to stay afloat. Giving money to charity is not a possibility when there is barely enough for oneself. Yet giving does not have to be financial. By extending yourself to help others with services or simply by listening and offering support, you have opened yourself to emotional philanthropy.
I have identified three basic paths to channeling kindness through your life to consciously be a better social human being. The first is more psychologically based and the second is more reactive.
The first path starts with gratitude in one’s own life. Everyone has faced hurdles and disappointments yet everyone also has realized positive experiences. Taking positivity and transforming it to gratitude and then transforming the gratitude to giving are lifetime processes. It is important to realize that when you feel sated emotionally, you will be more likely to be generous with someone else. The second path is based on empathy. Knowing someone who is facing a critical situation that you can identify with and support will likely inspire you to reach out and help. It might be someone with a particular form of cancer, child support issues or job loss concerns that will trigger a reaction to help. The third path is an immediate emotional response often accompanied by a physical act that, without planning, will bring a person to hero status. For example, this might be seeing people hurt in an accident, hearing about a family tragedy or learning about the needs in a local shelter. It is usually a spontaneous response to tragedy or hardship.
There’s also scientific evidence of what is happening inside us while we are responding outside. Paul Zak, a neuroeconomist, has demonstrated a strong link between oxytocin and generosity. “We drew blood before and after people watched one of the two videos and found that doing nothing more watching the emotional video produced a huge 157% spike in oxytocin levels. Oxytocin levels actually fell for those who watched the neutral video. We then asked people how they felt after seeing the videos. For the emotional video, the change in oxytocin was correlated with feelings of empathy…. Oxytocin connects us to others and lets us understand their emotions.”
So if you are ready to do good and just do not know where to start or how to begin, there is a wealth of suggestions for taking a path with kindness at this website. The site provides a cyber deck of cards divided in the predictable suits of clubs, hearts diamonds, and spades. The categories are designed for people you know, for strangers, for yourself, for our world and offer thoughtful suggestions within each category for opportunities to show gratitude in one’s life by reaching out and seeking opportunities that will make a difference.
Everything is not all about dollars and cents. It is also about actively giving and living life with purpose. The unchartered waters abound for ordinary people to do extraordinary things for each other.
“If you want others to be happy, practice generosity and compassion. If you want to be happy, practice generosity and compassion….” The Dalai Lama
“A hundred times every day I remind myself that my inner and outer life are based on the labors of other men, living and dead, and that I must exert myself in order to give in the same measure as I have received and am still receiving… ”- Albert Einstein