Did you celebrate Valentine’s Day over the weekend? Even though I can’t endorse mass consumption of chocolate and sweets, one thing I do like about this holiday is that it encourages us to take stock in the people who mean the most to us. It reorients us towards kindness.
As it turns out, treating others with kindness is not only good for our relationships. It’s good for our personal health and wellbeing, too.
I once heard Ward Archer, the record producer, advertising executive, and serial entrepreneur, talk about a business meeting that caused him great angst. He had created a first-rate presentation and was eager to wow a client in his downtown Memphis office. The meeting began well enough, but suddenly the client had an anxious look on his face. Nothing Ward did seemed to re-engage the client’s attention.
Finally, Ward asked, “Have we just missed the boat with the direction you wanted to take?”
The man replied, “No, everything in your presentation is fine. But I parked on the street and only had a quarter for the meter. I’m afraid I’m going to get a ticket.”
This led Ward to propose that all parking be free for Downtown businesses. But his story illustrates how off track we can get when we don’t understand what is causing another person’s stress. In fact, failing to understand the other person’s stress can create unnecessary stress in us.
On a long plane ride, I began hearing an irritating clicking sound coming from a passenger sitting right in front of me. At first I thought it was a child. Then I realized it was an older man.
The clicking picked at my nerves, agitating me. It was so bad I turned to my wife and remarked about the sound loudly enough for the man to hear me. The clicking amplified in my brain until I couldn’t concentrate on anything else.
Then the man got up to go to the restroom. The irritation stopped. Only then did I realize that the man was blind, and the clicking was the sound he made while reading Braille. Humiliation flashed through me. But because I understood what was happening, when the man returned I was able to refocus on what I was doing.
On another trip, I was at an airport waiting patiently in line to ask a question of the gate agent. Just when my turn came, a man with a thick Indian accent wearing a turban stepped in front of me. Rather than being irritated, I listened to what he asked. He had been waiting at another gate only to realize his plane was not there. The busy gate agent told him matter-of-factly that his plane had left and he would need to go to customer service — and pointed him to a very long line. After I got the answer to my own question, I went to find the man. I learned he had just arrived in America from India and was headed to meet his family in Texas. He showed me his boarding pass, which clearly indicated his flight would leave from the gate where he had waited. He had done nothing wrong. I explained to him what he would have to do now, and he was grateful for the help.
I had done a good deed and the result was the opposite of stress for both of us.
It’s so important to understand the other person’s stress, both to be able to communicate and help the other person and to manage our own stress level. Stress becomes destructive when we let small irritants grow into serious distractions.
Your neighbor leaves his garbage can in an undesirable spot. Your co-worker lets food go bad in the break-room refrigerator. Someone sings loudly and off-key in church. A sales representative calls you during dinner. A hurried stranger pushes in front of you in line.
Do any of these experiences really matter?
We cannot eliminate stress in our lives, but it’s pointless to increase it for no good reason. If
we seek to engage other people with kindness, we ourselves are calmer and more relaxed.
Kindness reduces stress — and that’s good for your health.