How kindness can help us to move from permanent exhaustion towards lasting, positive change
2020 has been a deeply challenging and deeply inspiring year.
Getting used to the new normal was tiring and frustrating. Many of us faced painful losses. Plans were crushed, people got hurt, countries were divided – it felt like an escalation of unhealthy disconnection and polarization.
On the other hand, the year was filled with inspiring stories – stories of support, exchange, and courage. People came together, locally and globally, to effect change. I found myself innovating over the internet with people I never met before. I found support in unexpected places. And talking on zoom with people continents apart made me realize how similar our experiences often were – even across distances.
So what kind of year has it been? Well, it all depends on the stories we tell. And even more so, it depends on the actions we take. Together, they will decide how the larger period goes down in history.
This decade is on us to define.
Build back better – from overuse to balance
So far, we received a painful but necessary wake up call. Our ways of living and doing business have deeply affected not only our planet and environment, but also our personal health. We overused our resources, exploited our planet and left too little for other species. We made everything faster, neater, and more efficient – including ourselves. We connected everything but forgot about the essence of connection. And we left a mess behind – in our environment, and in our heads. The big side effect of 2020 is that it gave many of us time to think.
The spirit of the fresh start
After the first months of lockdown, we saw moments of reflection and a spirit of reinvention. Cities like Milan, Amsterdam, Paris and New York all made plans to increase bike traffic, invest in green spaces or even embrace new economic models. We realized that pandemic prevention makes not only personal, but also economic sense. And we rethought how we work, travel and relax.
Despite those positive sentiments, actions and examples, collectively we still have a long way to go. We even took some steps back. The crisis brought us increased plastic pollution and rising inequalities, and our climate gets worse.
Creating lasting change at such a large scale requires a lot of energy and conviction. And right now, we are exhausted.
Build back kinder – from disconnection to meaningful engagement
Dr. Wayne Dyer famously said: “We can only give to others what we have inside ourselves.” To sustain ourselves through challenging periods of change is not easy. It affects our ability to cope and leaves us empty. And we are not even starting from a full tank.
Loneliness and disconnection have slowly taken over our neighborhoods, our workspaces, our social life. Our devices are way more connected than we are. Covid-19 and social distancing are just the tip of an iceberg that has been submerged for a long time.
Besides, we lost our connection to the natural world. This cuts us off from the peace, empathy and inspiration we can find in nature. At this point, even those working extra hard for change are running out of power. The mental drain of advocacy work and community organization is real. Eco-Anxiety is a growing concern especially for younger generations.
All this results in more disengagement. ‘When we’re disengaged, we don’t show up, we don’t contribute, and we stop caring.’ says Brené Brown. How can we escape from this vicious cycle?
Enter the power of kindness
Kindness can reverse this cycle. It is one of the few things that makes us richer when we give more, it is reciprocal – and contagious.
Acts of kindness not only help the person on the receiving end, they also make the giver feel better. That makes kindness not only an important element of our social life, but also of our own self-care. In fact, kindness is so powerful that it can impact us when we are not part of the exchange at all: Experiencing, or even just reading about, supportive exchanges inspires others to act.
So luckily, a culture of kindness is not the hardest thing to revive. We can make use of the strong ripple effect of connection and support – and our inherent tendency to be kind.
Overcoming differences through connection and purpose
Working together towards a bigger purpose is one of the best ways to build a team.
It is also the remedy to build more empathy, understand other viewpoints, and bridge our divides. Leaders like Nelson Mandela have long taught us that making real change requires sitting down with enemies, and understanding their viewpoints. The same might be true for our coworkers, neighbours and competitors.
Shallow conversations make us feel alone in a crowd of people. True connection requires us to share something of meaning. What can be more meaningful than making a difference in someone’s day, or even better, their life? What would be more meaningful than to jointly build towards a better future?
Hopefully, we will use the next decade to work together towards lasting change. But to gain the strength to build back better, and maybe to even just make it out of bed first, we need to start with kindness – towards ourselves, our peers, and our planet.
Let’s make 2021 the year to act on that.