Healthy Relationships, Part 5 :
Kindness, or: It's the Little Things
By Dawn Obrecht, M.D.
Ever notice how your serenity can be interrupted by a random act of UNkindness? Some people are in so much personal emotional pain that they cannot seem to escape themselves and be nice to their fellow human beings. Clearly, if we are talking random stranger who has never met you and has no reason to feel bitter toward you, it is their problem and has nothing to do with you.
The etiology of unkindness is self-centeredness, the inability or unwillingness to get out of oneself and be sensitive to others. People in pain from anger, fear and old hurts often inflict it on others. Those who become addicted to a substance or process find a way to temporarily cover the pain, while others become caretakers or control freaks and a few just direct nastiness to the world and everyone in it...or at least to those closest to them.
One of the top ten ingredients for a healthy relationship with anyone, spouse, relative, coworker or person on the street, even with an ex, is simple kindness. Do unto others.... hmmm...that sounds familiar.
Since I have been traveling almost non-stop since June, I have had the opportunity to be around people in the service industries, hotel and motel staff, restaurant workers, airline personnel and other travelers as well as hospital staff. When away from home, changing time zones and fatigued, everything is magnified. An unkind word or act, or even a nasty look from a complete stranger seems many times worse than it necessarily is. Conversely, tiny kindnesses are even more noticeable and can make the day. Little things impact the quality of our days and a friendly greeting versus a legalistic, harsh or rude one, or none at all, can brighten or darken our mood, at least temporarily.
Small considerations arrive in a variety of packages. One story is from a couple driving across the country and wanting to get an early start from their motel. The manager of the only restaurant in the small Wyoming town opened his doors ten minutes early and provided the travelers with coffee and toast while he continued setting tables and heating the grill. The thoughtful manager started the travelers' day so differently than if he had ignored them and refused to open the doors until exactly the appointed moment. Such a little thing can have an enormous impact...on the one demonstrating kindheartedness as well as on the recipients.
Stories of acknowledging handicapped, elderly or unattractive strangers abound. The person disfigured from injury or illness, often from fire or cancer, is used to being ignored or shunned. What a difference it makes in his day for someone to make eye contact, seeing him as just another human being down here on earth, and not for his physical appearance.
Of more significance in the lives of most of us, are our relationships with close family and friends.
Question: In thinking of the qualities you want in a person with whom you spend a lot of time, what is highest on the list? When it comes to an ongoing and intense relationship, what really makes a difference?
Answer: According to some elderly, wise and very experienced participants in relationships, survey shows the single most important quality is...drum roll please... kindness. Again, it's the little things: smiles, softness, gentleness. Equally important is the absence of unkindness, overlooking of imperfections, refusal to discount, criticize or disparage.
Those who awaken to smiles, hugs and gentle words from their spouse start the day way ahead of those who are met with a grumpy, sour, selfish mate who shows only interest and concern for herself. It's great to have a spouse, significant other or close friend who is smart, pretty, a good dancer, perhaps a great cook and housekeeper, and maybe has a prestigious and well paying job, but daily compassion and thoughtfulness affect us...well...every day.
So, think about it. What type of person are you? How do you make the world a slightly better place for the people in your life?
Dr. Dawn Obrecht is the only MD addiction medicine specialist on the western slope of Colorado. She is a Fellow of the American Society of Addiction Medicine and her office is in Steamboat Springs. She teaches a communication course to medical students at the University Of Colorado Health Sciences Center in Denver firstname.lastname@example.org.