A renewed commitment to kindness is desperately needed in South Africa if we are to escape the second wave of the Coronavirus.
Worldwide, the evidence suggests the pandemic goes into overdrive after about three months of flat growth in infections. We’ve seen this in the UK and across Europe. South Africa is in about month two of flat infection growth.
So how could kindness combat the second wave of a global pandemic?
Kindness sees human beings, not numbers. It sees and acknowledges an individual, not the faceless mass to be ignored. It recognizes that being sloppy about wearing a mask in public places, not sanitising or adopting a casual approach to social distancing could very well end up taking the life of another person.
With the current pandemic taking its terrible toll around the world for so many months now, we risk dehumanising victims if we don’t often pause for a moment to remember that a personal commitment to kindness directs us to consider our fellow human being especially vulnerable people at this time so intertwined with facts and stats.
Corporate South Africa, for its part, was starting to recognise that kind employees are better able to deliver outstanding service to internal and external stakeholders even before the terrible events of 2020 unfolded. Values related to kindness have even been incorporated into mission statements which now often include stated expressions of caring, empathy, and so on.
Logic and common sense would suggest that organisations that already developed healthy attitudes towards themselves and others centred around kindness have been better able to weather COVID-19.
This is because kindness enables empathy to flourish and empathic employees are better equipped to understand the pressing needs of others and then take concrete steps to solve them. Acting in kind ways is clearly both the correct and effective thing to do.
Recent events in the US are a golden opportunity to put a commitment to kindness back on the world agenda after four plus years of so much unpleasantness. Indeed, one could say President-elect Joe Biden has emerged as the top candidate in the race for America’s highest office because of his running of a campaign that promised a return to all-American values that surely include kindness.
“It’s time to put away the harsh rhetoric,” he said, “lower the temperature, see each other again, listen to each other again, and to make progress.”
Acting in a kind manner doesn’t mean that a kind individual or organisation is a pushover.
New Zealand’s respected, admired and much-loved Prime Minister is one of the best latter-day examples of strength through kindness. Which world leader of late has faced terrorism, natural disasters and the Coronavirus and essentially beat them all with a smile on her face and always a kind word to offer respite in troubling times? You don’t see Jacinda Ardern pounding the podium or delivering threats from the lectern. She espouses empathy and resonates rationality. And she wins her country’s battles.
Our own President, referred to the “milk of human kindness” in a recent State of the Nation Address. Again, anyone who knows him can speak at length about his reputation as a kind man, but anyone who regards our President as a pushover is most certainly in for a surprise. Mr Ramaphosa can be said to display deep empathy towards others and keen understanding of the outcomes of his actions and this is what makes him kind, not soft. In fact, being kind often requires courage and strength.
“Kindness The Currency of a Civil Society”, by Q Yunus is an eye-opener of a book that is especially interesting because it links kindness to real-world success. This seems to imply that kindness definitely isn’t a ‘soft’ skill but, in fact, a necessary trait for success. The author presents kindness as an alternative route to acquire success, happiness and a wealth that increases every time it is shared.
Professor of Psychology at Berekley University, Dacher Keltner outlines in his book, “Born to Be Good – The Science of a Meaningful Life”, that humans are not hardwired to lead lives that are “nasty, brutish, and short”―we are in fact born to be good. He investigates an old mystery of human evolution: why have we evolved positive emotions like gratitude, amusement, awe, and compassion that promote ethical action and are the fabric of cooperative societies.
As we close off a difficult year, and hopefully embark upon a 2021 where we find new meaning and enjoyment from each other, let’s also appreciate that kindness is not about frivolous compliments cast out here, there and everywhere. It is a thoughtfulness and genuine caring for and recognition of fellow human beings. We are all special and we should relate to each other in a way that recognises our uniqueness.
Regarding kindness as something to be shared is a wonderful way to look upon the giving that is the expression of kindness, as is the idea that the distributor of kindness can somehow benefit while helping others fulfil their own needs. South Africa needs legions of givers skilled in the act of kindness if it is to succeed.
Dot Field is a fellow of the Institute of Directors, founder of Dot Field Consulting and Board member, Secretary and Chair of Brand and Reputation Committee of International Women’s Forum, South Africa.