Two Years of Kindness Advocacy and Practice

I noticed today that I launched my blog and supporting social media a full two years ago. To everyone who has supported this venture in any way, I feel enormously grateful. Your comments, your shares, and even your simple, precious gifts of time and attention mean so much to me.

As I sit here on a cool Los Angeles spring evening, watching the sunset, I want to acknowledge how much you’ve all helped me on this two-year journey of kindness advocacy and practice. And I’d like to reflect briefly on what I have learned so far.

Kindness Communication began in order to focus upon the idea that there is a missing piece, a missing heart in how we talk about the way we treat each other at work. When I launched the blog, I described that missing heart as kindness. As much as I have learned since launching, the principle has not changed:

“Kindness Communication wants to bring kindness back to the heart of how we speak with each other, and how we speak about improving the workplace.”

Along the way, I have learned that people will help you more than you may realize, if you approach them with authenticity and openness. Other practitioners and bloggers have offered me guest posting slots in their efforts. Journalists have sought out my perspectives and quoted them generously. People have agreed to take time and let me interview them. Especially in an area such as kindness that depends on mutual support and positive interaction, this help has reinforced my belief that like begets like, and that kindness triggers unexpected loops of positive outcomes.

I have also learned just how much work we kindness advocates and practitioners must do to achieve the goal of better workplaces. A Kindness Communication workplace kindness audit showed a rather dismal picture: on a 100 point scale of kindness, the average among respondents was only 66. Beyond those numbers, I have spoken with many people about the impacts of disregard, territoriality, conflict-seeking, and selfishness. These traits and behaviors pop up again and again at every level of a workplace, from company cultures down to individual dynamics. They indicate much work to be done.

In addition, of course, the world overall looks a lot different in 2016 than it did in 2015. When measured against values of kindness and pluralism and tolerance, it looks a lot darker. The need for kindness advocacy has only grown since I started, but the luxury of waiting to get traction is no more. This realization prompted me to shift focus beyond business, to promote kindness in all domains by all means available, and to make it accessible to all by keeping it as simple as possible. I continue to view the purpose of Kindness Communication this way today.

Finally, however, despite endemic kindness deficits and dark times, I still do hope. I believe in the light that I see when I speak to others about their kindness practices, the warmth that I feel from all of the positive interactions that have gathered around this work. Even with no certain future for the NEXT two years, we can still tap into that hope as a source of steadying joy and open calm.

No matter what, we can still do right by each other.

May the Circles Be Unbroken

Starita Boyce Ansari designs out-of-school programs for elementary through college students. She studies the economics of discrimination and education equity, equality and access, and she has co-authored two books on youth leadership. Her work in the fields of philanthropy and social justice has been recognized by Ford and W.K Kellogg foundations. Reposted from ECE Policy Works by permission of the author.

By M. Starita Boyce Ansari

The 2016 U.S. presidential election has made so many people angry, anxious, and divisive.  Our nation, particularly its children, cannot afford the hate and separation our educators are seeing in the classrooms. Bigotry and bullying are on the rise, intensified by the tragedy of what the Southern Poverty Law Center and teachers are calling the “Trump Effect.”  My own fifth-grade son fears that our nation has returned to the “Ruby Bridges Days” of hate.

I believe that, in spite of all the hate, hope shines in the form of a generation of 83.1 million millennials, who have been primed not merely to make America, but the world, a better place. That means more than one quarter of the nation’s population can catalyze change.  We must be willing to come together so they can realize the power of their voices.

The millennials and baby boomers are America’s first- and second- largest generations.  Along with countless other Americans, I have benefited from the civil rights and women’s movements. We may call them different names today (Occupy Wall Street, Black Lives Matter, Color of Change, etc.), but we share many goals—from environmental justice to trans rights to equal pay to corporate social responsibility. We have the time, talent and gifts to bring to this task.

To get there, we must be empathetic and open our hearts. We must break down the silos between us so that we can help each other.  From there, we must commit to making sure that compassion has a real impact. We need to create responsive intergenerational engagement within our communities. We must be honest, however, about the collective challenges that face us.  Millennials often express the feeling that the system ignores their voices.  There’s a wall of suspicion between the generations. The time for listening, learning, sharing, caring, and mentoring is now.

Among the greatest challenges is the focus of our educational system on “racing to the top,” at the expense of the whole child. When we erase experiential learning, we deprive our children of the opportunity to reflect on the world and be problem-solvers.  From prekindergarten to college, we have not done our duty of creating empathetic citizens who understand how to be responsive in their philanthropy and considerate of others’ cultures, mores, identities, and personalities. Those who are empathic and inclusive have witnessed acts of kindness at home.

Education can become the bridge to leadership, civil discourse, community engagement, and commitment to change. Actually, not only can it do so, it must! Through responsive philanthropy, our educators will open the door to a new generation of civic leaders.

Part of the process is moving beyond test scores and career readiness. Educators must integrate empathy, community, and citizenship into the curriculum. In too many places, the misplaced priorities of the Common Core inhibit student participation in the community. Test-centered teaching leaves no room for our students to learn, appreciate, understand and respond to the feelings and experiences of others.

There are many ways to accomplish this goal.  Giving circles have shown the highest potential.  A giving circle nurtures students appreciation and understanding of others’ needs, enabling them to come together to support charitable organizations or community initiatives for a set period of time. Their members become more aware of and engaged in the causes they fund, and learn how to make our world better, not just for them, but for all.

A powerful model, a giving circle melds responsiveness and altruism with community engagement.  This isn’t about a tax deduction—often the focus of millennials’ parents and grandparents.  It’s a replication of the model used by civil rights, women’s rights and LGBT activists, harking back to a time when people of a wide variety of backgrounds and interests pulled their time, talents and resources together to work for social change. It is transparent, responsive, empowering and collaborative.

Creating space for giving circles means bringing philanthropy and civic engagement back into the classroom. We need to be pragmatic and strategic in our approach. Institutions can start by piloting giving circles that integrate administration, student government organizations, students, themselves, philanthropists, parents, and other community members.

Most importantly, we must break down the silos between us so that we can help each other.  We cannot return to the “Ruby Bridges Days” of fear and selfishness. A movement of philanthropy, in the sense of loving one’s fellow human being, is what we need. With so much ahead of us to do, we cannot afford hate and separation.  I have a higher goal in mind. We all do. We must protect our children from these misanthropic forces.

Replace New Year’s Resolutions With Annual Themes Instead

The phrase “annual theme” doesn’t roll off the tongue quite as easily as “new year’s resolution,” but choosing a theme for the year may lead to better results. For the last two years, I’ve abandoned resolutions, and I have found three main benefits:

  1. You can’t really “fail” at a theme. You can grow more or less mindful of it as the year progresses, but it doesn’t set you up to disappoint yourself or beat yourself up over an unmet goal. Goal-setting has a lot of power. I don’t mean to suggest anyone should abandon it entirely. But arbitrary dictates based on the change of the calendar won’t help you attain goals and may actually undermine you.
  2. In 2016, I chose “look up” as my theme. I can’t say that I maintained consistent optimism in the face of all the twists and turns of the year, but looking up, more positively, looking up at the future, looking up at a higher goal for myself–these thematic thoughts provided a touchstone for me through all the ups and downs of the year. If I had decided to resolve to “be more optimistic,” I wouldn’t call it a success and would likely have given in within a month.
  3. Actions make more sense with reasons behind them. Think about previous years when you’ve tried resolutions, especially common resolutions like exercise, weight loss, quitting smoking. You can’t just get commitment off the shelf as a pre-packaged “product,” which is really what resolutions like that typically are.
  4. If you didn’t succeed with your past resolutions, ask yourself whether you really anchored that goal on a deep reason – to perform better at work, to live longer and with greater health for your loved ones, to have more impact in the world around you. When you do have a deep reason, which you can keep in mind using an annual theme, you’ll do better with your goals.
  5. You can use an annual theme in many more ways. A resolution typically only applies when the topic comes up, even if it comes up in your thoughts often. You can use your theme as a lens through which to look at many circumstances, and situations. You can even use it as a mantra if you choose to meditate.

In 2015, when I chose “make” as my theme, I committed to looking at the ways I spent my energy and time in terms of creative output. It resulted in specific outcomes that could have been resolutions (write more, create more art) but also colored my perceptions.

For 2017, I am choosing “open calm” as my theme. It works as a noun phrase reflecting a state of mind that balances equanimity and receptiveness to others. I intend to go out into the world and engage with living beings in a state of open calm. It also works as a verb phrase reflecting concerted, mindful effort to unlock the calmness of others, instead of seeking to raise discomfort and anxiety. I want others to be able to join me when I open calm in my interactions with them.

As in past years, this theme aligns to and enables specific resolutions, but it also transcends them, giving me a tool I can use to set my intentions more broadly.

What would you choose as your theme for the year?

10 Kindness Imperatives for a New Era

Note: I wrote far too long of an introduction to this, and then moved it to its own post. Read the introduction here.

  1. Do what you can when you can. Every kind act towards another being makes the world a better place.
  2. Treat all life with caring respect. All living beings merit kindness and compassion.
  3. Set your intentions for kind actions each day. Kindness should be as much of a factor in your to-do list as importance and priority.
  4. Spend time each day wishing the best to people you pass. By adapting this time-tested meditative practice, called metta in Buddhism, you increase the well-being around you.
  5. Bring joy to each encounter. If you see a friend unexpectedly, or see a baby, or an animal, you likely feel a jolt of spontaneous joy, and you can channel the essence of that joy every time you interact with others.
  6. Ascribe only the best intentions to others. Even when you are in conflict with someone else, you can defuse “me or you” oppositions by not treating the other party as the bad guy.
  7. Dare to be inspired. It takes an attitude of open kindness to see models for the good in what you see, hear, and read.
  8. Value yourself. You need self-compassion, focus, and energy to be an effective kindness practitioner in the world.
  9. Give. Really, right now, find a cause you care about, and give them even a small donation. Do it.
  10. Never forget that you are the steward of your own world. The duty of your stewardship is kindness.

Rethinking, Restarting

When I started Kindness Communication back in March 2015, I wanted to promote kindness to achieve better results and greater focus in companies and organizations. I loosely imagined it would act as a spawning ground for a kindness-based professional services offering, a mix of training, coaching, and resources that would help people and organizations implement kindness as a core, lived value.

In the eighteen plus months that followed, I’ve learned many things, but most important, I’ve learned that a movement won’t start itself, and that an ill-conceived goal quickly becomes its own obstacle. I might have been able to state those lessons as a truism well before my experiences with Kindness Communication, but now my awareness of them is sharpened. I believe the business goal I envisioned has actually prevented me from writing and thinking about kindness to full potential.

Moreover, the world looks a lot different in December 2016 than it did in March 2015. When measured against values of kindness and pluralism and tolerance, it looks a lot darker. The need for kindness advocacy has only grown since I started, but the luxury of waiting to get traction is no more.

In short, I don’t think I have time to wait for business inspiration to come as a way to amplify my voice. It is urgent to promote kindness in all domains by all means available, and to make it accessible to all by keeping it as simple as possible. I want to meet that urgency by writing differently, and more often. In order to do that, I have to put aside the business goal for now.

I also have to put aside the thought patterns I have absorbed as a career-long consultant who focuses on rigorous, fact-based work. I have to take risks and make bold assertions, even with little backup, and let my claims about kindness sit on the power of principle rather than of proof.

So, take all of the above as a long preface for my long-term readers to explain a change of tone and approach, letting you all know why things will be different from here on out, And with that, many thanks to those of you who have been following Kindness Communication to date.

Read 10 Kindness Imperatives for a New Era
to see where this new approach is leading.

Kind thoughts in the face of Syria’s refugee crisis

I try to focus my writing on positive calls for kindness, on inspiring examples. And at the same time I promote no religion. I will, however, offer this to people who speak about denying refuge to people fleeing violence in Syria, or setting out criteria of allowing only Christians.

Matthew 25:41-43
41 “Then He will also say to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels: 42 for I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink; 43 I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.’

The hostility directed at people in need may score political points, but in no way serves the Christianity that many of those promoting it most strongly profess. I believe it demonstrates that religions of hate do not exist–people who use religions as instruments of hate do.

Let’s demilitarize marketing

I have worked in marketing and communications for many years. Times such as these, most recently faced with the massacre of ordinary people in Paris just living their lives, remind me of a fundamental reservation I felt when entering this field. Why does marketing language tilt towards militarization and violence? If we believe that language and tone matter, should we not promote a change in the dynamic, and demilitarize marketing?

I came to my current profession by way of studying and then teaching French literature at the university level. That experience made many of the quirks of business language sound odd to my ears, but, over time, I assimilated, and wrote off my discomfort as the naive perspective of inexperience. I concluded it didn’t matter, and that I could ignore how strange it is to consider what we do as “strategy,” to speak about “penetrating” a market, to consider our audiences as “targets,” all straight out of the domain of military planning and tactics.

Yet a violent world calls for deeper reflection, calls for accepting that discomfort, and finally calls for constructing a better view of the world. To repeat, language and tone matter, so after a steady stream of mass murders by lone actors and by coordinated groups, I can no longer let it pass. Not in my own thinking, and I ask my peers to demilitarize their own mindset, too.

  • I will no longer call people “targets.” In my marketing and in my work for clients, I am helping them connect with humans. And, along the same lines, I won’t “target” any audiences. I will focus on connection and engagement.
  • I will no longer wage “campaigns.” For now, I have no better words than “initiative,” or “effort,” but in this case the less vivid language suits my purposes better.
  • I will no longer develop “strategies.” I will craft approaches, plan programs and projects, and then work with my colleagues to carry them.

Seemingly everyone in business speaks this way, so even in stating my commitments, I know I will slip. I will certainly not position myself as a language policeman to correct others who use this militarized language. But maybe, just maybe, it will wield the same subtle influence that I believe words have in connecting with people. And maybe, just maybe, it will demilitarize our world just one little bit.

 

Kindness To Animals In Business

People occasionally ask me why I speak of kindness to animals and kindness in business in the same breath. And I, too, have wondered whether these are parallel moral passions, or part of a consistent ethos. Even though they feel intuitively congruent, I feel the need to connect them with more rigor.

What I have concluded is that kindness to animals constitutes a core capability of compassion. Animals exist in a world of feelings and perceptions that we cannot access. One could argue the same for humans, as well, but with animals, the stakes for empathy are higher because of the greater distance between their worlds and ours. Our ability to be kind to them defines the outer limits of an empathy where our kindness to fellow humans sits in a comfortable and secure center.

If we can accept the imperative to treat animals well and acknowledge that their worlds are as legitimate and as subject to equal ethical consideration as our own, we can certainly treat our fellow humans and our fellow colleagues well, too. We can acknowledge their diversity and their unconditional entitlement to that consideration independent of power relations. As with animals, the worlds of our peers and of our customers may differ, but not our accountability for how we treat them.

And it goes further. Kindness to animals also enables a shift in attitude from exploitative dominion, viewing them as merely a means to an end, to responsible stewardship, viewing them with full faith in the integrity of their interests. As leaders and colleagues within our own organizations, as users of resources to which we add economic value, and as providers of services or products to our customers, there, too, we can map the way we treat animals onto a larger responsibility for care of our environment and the feeling beings within it.

More than mere metaphor, I believe we can intentionally shift from transactional to interdependent action in business, just as we do with friends and family and with non-human beings, to the greater benefit of all. The result: kinder practices in how we view the environment and in how we view labor, and deeper, more profitable, and more sustainable relations with our customers. Between these forms of kindness we find not only compatibility, but also congruence. The practice of one reinforces the outcomes of the other.